The intact sciatic nerve contains levels of nerve growth factor (NGF) that are comparable to those of densely innervated peripheral target tissues of NGF-responsive (sympathetic and sensory) neurons. There, the high NGF levels are reflected by correspondingly high mRNANGF levels. In the intact sciatic nerve, mRNANGF levels were very low, thus indicating that the contribution of locally synthesized NGF by nonneuronal cells is small. However, after transection an increase of up to 15-fold in mRNANGF was measured in 4-mm segments collected both proximally and distally to the transection site. Distally to the transection site, augmented mRNANGF levels occurred in all three 4-mm segments from 6 h to 2 wk after transection, the longest time period investigated. The augmented local NGF synthesis after transection was accompanied by a reexpression of NGF receptors by Schwann cells (NGF receptors normally disappear shortly after birth). Proximal to the transection site, the augmented NGF synthesis was restricted to the very end of the nerve stump that acts as a "substitute target organ" for the regenerating NGF-responsive nerve fibers. While the mRNANGF levels in the nerve stump correspond to those of a densely innervated peripheral organ, the volume is too small to fully replace the lacking supply from the periphery. This is reflected by the fact that in the more proximal part of the transected sciatic nerve, where mRNANGF remained unchanged, the NGF levels reached only 40% of control values. In situ hybridization experiments demonstrated that after transection all nonneuronal cells express mRNANGF and not only those ensheathing the nerve fibers of NGF-responsive neurons.