To investigate when the neurotrophic cytokines ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF), leukaemia inhibitory factor (LIF), oncostatin-M (OSM), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and cardiotrophin-1 (CT-1) act on developing sensory neurones and whether they co-operate with neurotrophins in regulating neuronal survival, we studied the in vitro trophic effects of these factors on two well-characterized populations of cranial sensory neurones at closely staged intervals throughout embryonic development. The cutaneous sensory neurones of the trigeminal ganglion, which show an early, transient survival response to BDNF and NT3 before becoming NGF-dependent, were supported by CNTF, LIF, OSM and CT-1 during the late fetal period, several days after the neurones become NGF-dependent. At this stage of development, these cytokines promoted the survival of a subset of NGF-responsive neurones. The enteroceptive neurones of the nodose ganglion, which retain dependence on BDNF throughout fetal development, were supported throughout their development by CNTF, LIF, OSM and CT-1, and displayed an additional survival response to IL-6 in the late fetal period. These findings indicate that populations of sensory neurones display different developmental patterns of cytokine responsiveness and show that embryonic trigeminal neurones pass through several phases of differing neurotrophic factor survival requirements.