Insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) has multiple effects within the developing nervous system but its role in neurogenesis in the adult nervous system is less clear. The adult olfactory mucosa is a site of continuing neurogenesis that expresses IGF-I, its receptor and its binding proteins. The aim of the present study was to investigate the roles of IGF-I in regulating proliferation and differentiation in the olfactory mucosa. The action of IGF-I was assayed in serum-free culture combined with bromodeoxyuridine-labelling of proliferating cells and immunochemistry for specific cell types. IGF-I and its receptor were expressed by globose basal cells (the neuronal precursor) and by olfactory neurons. IGF-I reduced the numbers of proliferating neuronal precursors, induced their differentiation into neurons and promoted morphological differentiation of neurons. The evidence suggests that IGF-I is an autocrine and/or paracrine signal that induces neuronal precursors to differentiate into olfactory sensory neurons. These effects appear to be similar to the cellular effects of IGF-I in the developing nervous system.