Summary Although ligand-induced dimerization or oligomerization of receptors is a well established mechanism of growth factor signaling, increasing evidence indicates that biological responses are often mediated by receptor trans-signaling mechanisms involving two or more receptor systems. These include G protein-coupled receptors, cytokine, growth factor and trophic factor receptors. Greater flexibility is provided when different signaling pathways are merged through multiple receptor signaling systems. Trophic factors exemplified by NGF and its family members, ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) and glial derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) all utilize increased tyrosine phosphorylation of cellular substrates to mediate neuronal cell survival. Actions of the NGF family of neurotrophins are not only dictated by ras activation through the Trk family of receptor tyrosine kinases, but also a survival pathway defined by phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase activity (Yao and Cooper, 1995), which gives rise to phosphoinositide intermediates that activate the serine/threonine kinase Akt/PKB (Dudek et al., 1997). Induction of the serine-threonine kinase activity is critical for cell survival, as well as cell proliferation. Hence, for many trophic factors, multiple proteins constitute a functional multisubunit receptor complex that activates ras-dependent and ras-independent intracellular signaling. The NGF receptors provide an example of bidirectional crosstalk. In the presence of TrkA receptors, p75 can participate in the formation of high affinity binding sites and enhanced neurotrophin responsiveness leading to a survival or differentiation signal. In the absence of TrkA receptors, p75 can generate, in only specific cell populations, a death signal. These activities include the induction of NFκB (Carter et al., 1996); the hydrolysis of sphingomyelin to ceramide (Dobrowsky et al., 1995); and the pro-apoptotic functions attributed to p75. Receptors are generally drawn and viewed as isolated integral membrane proteins which span the lipid bilayer, with signal transduction proceeding in a linear step-wise fashion. There are now numerous examples which indicate that each receptor acts not only in a linear, independent manner, but can also influence the activity of other cell surface receptors, either directly or through signaling intermediates. Which step and which intermediates are utilized for crosstalk between the receptors is a critical question. For neurotrophins, their primary function in sustaining the viability of neurons is counterbalanced by a receptor mechanism to eliminate cells by an apoptotic mechanism. It is conceivable that this bidirectional system may be utilized selectively during development and in neurodegenerative diseases.