Neurotrophins were originally identified by their ability to promote the survival of developing neurons. However, recent work on these proteins indicates that they may also influence the proliferation and differentiation of neuron progenitor cells and regular several differentiated traits of neurons throughout life. Moreover, the effects of neurotrophins on survival have turned out to be more complex than originally thought. Some neurons switch their survival requirements from one set of neurotrophins to another during development, and several neurotrophins may be involved in regulating the survival of a population of neurons at any one time. Much of our understanding of the developmental physiology of neurotrophins has come from studying neurons of the peripheral nervous system. Because these neurons and their progenitors are segregated into anatomically discrete sites, it has been possible to obtain these cell for in vitro experimental studies from the earliest stage of their development. The recent generation of mice having null mutations in the neurotrophin and neurotrophin receptor genes has opened up an unparalleled opportunity to assess the physiological relevance of the wealth of data obtained from these in vitro studies. Here I provide a chronological account of the effects of members of the NGF family of neurotrophins on cells of the neural lineage with special reference to the peripheral nervous system. 1994 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.