We have recently shown that conjunctivally applied nerve growth factor (NGF) in rats can reach the retina, the optic nerve and the CNS. In the present study, we investigated whether NGF application as collyrium can promote the recovery of chemically injured basal forebrain cholinergic neurons. NGF was administered on the eye of adult male mice previously treated i.c.v. with ibotenic acid to impair cholinergic pathways. Mice were tested in the passive avoidance test, and after 2 weeks of NGF administration were killed and the brains used for structural, biochemical and molecular analyses. The results showed that application of NGF on the eye surface protected choline acetyl transferase levels. These findings strengthen the hypothesis that application of NGF on the eye can represent an alternative delivery route to promote the recovery of brain cells during degeneration, including neurons involved in learning and memory activities.