We examined the plasma nerve growth factor (NGF) level and the distribution of NGF receptors in peripheral lymphocytes of young soldiers (mean age, 20-24 yr) experiencing the thrill of a novice about to make their first parachute jumps. Blood was collected from soldiers who knew they were selected to jump (n = 26), as well as from soldiers who knew they were not selected (n = 17, controls). The former group was sampled the evening before the jump and 20 min after landing. Compared with controls, NGF levels increased 84% in prejump and 107% in postjump sampling. Our studies also showed that the increase of NGF levels preceded the increase of plasma cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone. No changes in the baseline levels of circulating interleukin 1 beta or tumor necrosis factor were found, suggesting that the increased levels of NGF were not correlated with change in these cytokines. Moreover, immunofluorescence analysis demonstrated that parachuting stress enhances the distribution of low-affinity p75LNGFR and high-affinity p140trkA NGF receptors in circulating peripheral blood mononuclear cells. These observations suggest that the release of NGF might be involved in the activation of cells of the immune system and is most probably associated with homeostatic adaptive mechanisms, as previously shown for stressed rodents.