Abstract Peripheral sensory neurons are derived from two distinct embryonic tissues, the neural crest and epibranchial placodes. Studies in the chick suggest that embryonic lineage and trophic dependence are interrelated, such that many crest-derived cells depend on NGF for survival during development, whereas placodal derivates, including nodose ganglion neurons, do not (30). It remains controversial, however, whether or not a similar dichotomy exists in mammalian species, in which trophic requirements during early development of placodal ganglia have not been defined. To approach this issue, the present study examined the effects of nerve growth factor (NGF) on neuronal survival in embryonic rat nodose ganglion cultures. Treatment of E13.5–14.5 nodose explants with 20 ng/ml NGF resulted in a four-fold increase in neuronal survival that was blocked by anti-NGF antiserum. Increased neuronal survival and neurite outgrowth were also observed in neuronenriched dissociated cell cultures; these effects were seen within 12 h of plating, indicating that NGF-responsive neurons or neuroblasts were already present in the ganglion at the time of explantation. This was further supported by immunocytochemical staining of nodose cell bodies in situ with the monoclonal antibody 192-IgG against the NGF receptor (12). These findings indicate that NGF may be important in regulating nodose development during early gangliogenesis in mammals and suggest that NGF plays a more widespread role in peripheral nervous system ontogeny than previously recognized.