The neurotrophins nerve growth factor, brain-derived neurotrophic factor and neurotrophin-3 are structurally related proteins regulating the number of neurons in peripheral ganglia of the nervous system. Increased levels of nerve growth factor or of brain-derived neurotrophic factor selectively prevent normally occurring neuronal death, while the targeted elimination of all three genes decreases neuronal numbers. As previous studies indicated that the lack of neurotrophin-3 affects sensory ganglia already during gangliogenesis, the levels of this neurotrophin were increased during selected periods of chick development. We found that early, but not late, applications of neurotrophin-3 lead to a marked decrease in neuronal numbers in peripheral sensory ganglia. This decrease is not seen with BDNF and does not selectively affect subtypes of dorsal root ganglion neurons. It is accompanied by, and might result from, a decrease in the number of proliferating neuroblasts in sensory ganglia of treated embryos.

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