Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a 27-kDa basic protein of noncovalently linked 13.5-kD subunits related to nerve growth factor and is produced by the central nervous system (CNS). BDNF has been shown to promote the survival of neurons located in or directly connected with the CNS and is likely to function in adjusting the cell number within neuronal populations to the need of this projection field. Here we describe the primary structure of a human BDNF cDNA, the biological activities of pure recombinant human BDNF, and the tissue distribution of rat BDNF. BDNF mRNA can be found in some peripheral tissues as well as in the CNS, and recombinant human BDNF is a potent neurotrophic factor for primary peripheral sensory neurons.