During the development of the vertebrate nervous system, many neurons depend for survival on interactions with their target cells. Specific proteins are thought to be released by the target cells and to play an essential role in these interactions. So far, only one such protein, nerve growth factor, has been fully characterized. This has been possible because of the extraordinarily (and unexplained) large quantities of this protein in some adult tissues that are of no relevance to the developing nervous system. Whereas the dependency of many neurons on their target cells for normal development, and the restricted neuronal specificity of nerve growth factor have long suggested the existence of other such proteins, their low abundance has rendered their characterization difficult. Here we report the full primary structure of brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This very rare protein is known to promote the survival of neuronal populations that are all located either in the central nervous system or directly connected with it. The messenger RNA for brain-derived neurotrophic factor was found predominantly in the central nervous system, and the sequence of the protein indicates that it is structurally related to nerve growth factor. These results establish that these two neurotrophic factors are related both functionally and structurally.