Abstract Explants of atrium, vas deferens and lung from 5-day-old rats were grown between, and 1–2 mm from, a row each of sympathetic ganglia and spinal cord explants. After 5 days the amount of sympathetic nerve fibre growth in cultures with atrium or vas deferens (but not lung) was greater than in controls and directed towards the tissues. In contrast, in cultures with atrium, vas deferens and lung, the direction and amount of nerve growth from spinal cord explants was not significantly different from controls. Further, when sympathetic ganglia were grown between, and 1–2 mm from, a row each of atrium and ventricle explants, the total amount of nerve growth was increased and directed mainly towards the atrium. The results are discussed in relation to the hypothesis that normally densely innervated autonomic effector organs contain higher levels of Nerve Growth Factor than tissues which become more sparsely innervated, and that this allows nerve fibres from sympathetic ganglia (but not NGF-insensitive spinal cord) to distinguish between different tissues from a distance.