We investigated the potential role of nerve growth factor (NGF) in osteoblast survival in vitro. We found the expression of the mRNAs encoding NGF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and trk-b, which is the receptor molecule of BDNF in mouse osteoblastic MC3T3-E1 cells. NGF high-affinity receptor trk-a was expressed continuously in the cells as visualized by Western blotting. A proinflammatory cytokine mixture stimulated NGF mRNA, and NGF protein release from MC3T3-E1 cells. When the effect of the nuclear factor-KB inhibitor pyrrolidine dithiocarbamate (PDTC) and activating protein-1 inhibitor curcumin were examined, a dose-dependent inhibition of cytokine-activated NGF expression occurred in the presence of PDTC or curcumin. Further, a specific inhibitor of p38 mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK), i.e., SB203580, inhibited the induction of NGF in cytokines-treated cells in a dose-dependent manner whereas a specific inhibitor of classic MAPK, PD98059 had no effect on the induction of NGF. Treatment of anti-NGF IgG resulted in a potent increase of DNA fragmentation at a dose-dependent manner. NGF but not BDNF caused a dose-dependent reduction in the extent of apoptotic DNA breakdown under treatment with cytokines. Under similar conditions, the addition of NGF resulted in a potent reduction in bax protein but not in Fas, or bcl-xl. These findings demonstrated that NGF in non-neuronal osteoblastic cells may play an important role in cell survival as an anti-apoptotic factor.