Discovered only 40 years ago, nerve growth factor is the prototypic neurotrophic factor. By binding to specific receptors on certain neurons in the peripheral nervous system and brain, nerve growth factor acts to enhance their survival, differentiation, and maintenance. In recent years, many additional neurotrophic factors have been discovered; some are structurally related to nerve growth factor while others are distinct from it. The robust actions of neurotrophic factors have suggested their use in preventing or lessening the dysfunction and death of neurons in neurologic disorders. We review the progress in defining neurotrophic factors and their receptors and in characterizing their actions. We also discuss some of the uses of neurotrophic factors in animal models of disease. Finally, we discuss how neurotrophic factors could be implicated in the pathogenesis of neurologic disorders.