ABSTRACT: The neurotrophins are a family of growth factors involved in the survival and differentiation of specific populations of neurons and glial cells. Many of the trophic signals elicited by neurotrophins are initiated by the binding of these molecules to various Trk tyrosine kinase receptors. In contrast, recent data suggest that neurotrophin-mediated death signals are generated through the interaction of nerve growth factor with the low-affinity neurotrophin receptor, p75NTR. Neurotrophins may signal through p75NTR by stimulating sphingomyelin hydrolysis and generating ceramide in primary cultures of neurons and glial cells as well as in fibroblasts heterologously expressing p75NTR. The biochemical characteristics of p75NTR-dependent ceramide generation are discussed relative to the role of ceramide in p75NTR-dependent apoptosis and the activation of NF-κB.