Adrenergic sympathetic neurons were grown for 4 wk in submaximal and saturating concentrations of nerve growth factor (NGF) in the virtual absence of non-neuronal cells. In 0.2 or 5 microgram/ml 7S NGF, the neurons gradually decreased in number during the first week, although fewer neurons died at the higher level. No significant change in cell number was observed thereafter. Total neuronal protein, a measure of cell growth, increased linearly with age in both concentrations of NGF. At each age, neurons in high NGF exhibited greater growth per cell than those in low NGF. The ability of neurons to produce catecholamine (CA) increased dramatically during the second and third weeks in both concentrations of NGF, and along a similar time-course, although neurons in submaximal NGF developed a lesser capacity for CA production. As neurons developed in culture, they became less dependent on NGF for survival and CA production, but even in older cultures, approximately 50% of the neurons died when NGF was withdrawn.

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