New strategies have recently been developed where infusion of neurotrophic factors into the brain can rescue different populations of neurons. Infusion of nerve growth factor (NGF) has been used in combination with transplants of chromaffin tissue to the striatum in the rat model of Parkinson's disease as well as to patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease. In this study we have evaluated the distribution of recombinant human NGF (rhNGF) in different brain areas and evaluated morphological and electrophysiological effects after continuous infusion for 2 weeks of rhNGF (500 μg/ml) into the striatum of normal rats. One week after termination of rhNGF infusion, NGF levels in the infused striata were 10-fold increased while in contralateral striata normal levels were found. Extracellular recordings from striatal neurons revealed a significantly decreased spontaneous firing rate (0.76 ± 0.07 Hz) in rats infused with rhNGF compared to vehicle-infused control animals (1.36 ± 0.16 Hz). Local application of rhNGF during recordings showed no direct inhibitory effect of NGF on neuronal discharge rate. Immunohistochemistry, using antibodies against acetyl cholinesterase (AChE) and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), revealed a 38.7 ± 7.0% increase in optical density of AChE immunoreactivity close to the NGF source and an increase in GFAP-positive profiles that was restricted close to the implanted dialysis fibre. In situ hybridization showed an increase in mRNAs for choline acetyltransferase, trkA, p75 and muscarinic m2 receptor in the large neurons of rhNGF-infused striatum. Messenger RNAs for m1 and m4 receptors in striatal neurons were not changed. Thus, chronic infusion of rhNGF into the striatum caused a cholinergic hyperinnervation and reduced spontaneous activity of striatal neurons.