Nerve growth factor (NGF) is required for the development of sympathetic neurons and subsets of sensory neurons. Our current knowledge on the molecular mechanisms underlying the biological functions of NGF is in part based on the studies with PC12 rat pheochromocytoma cells, which differentiate into sympathetic neuron-like cells upon NGF treatment. Here we report that the expression of leukemia inhibitory factor receptor (LIFR), one of the signaling molecules shared by several neuropoietic cytokines of the interleukin-6 family, is specifically up-regulated in PC12 cells following treatment with NGF. Attenuation of LIFR signaling through stable transfection of antisense- or dominant negative-LIFR constructs enhances NGF-induced neurite extension in PC12 cells. On the contrary, overexpression of LIFR retards the growth of neurites. More importantly, whereas NGF-induced Rac1 activity is enhanced in antisense-LIFR and dominant negative-LIFR expressing PC12 cells, it is reduced in LIFR expressing PC12 cells. Following combined treatment with NGF and ciliary neurotrophic factor, sympathetic neurons exhibit attenuated neurite growth and branching. On the other hand, in sympathetic neurons lacking LIFR, neurite growth and branching is enhanced when compared with wild type controls. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that LIFR expression can be specifically induced by NGF and, besides its known function in cell survival and phenotype development, activated LIFR signaling can exert negative regulatory effects on neurite extension and branching of sympathetic neurons.