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GLIAL-CELL-LINE-DERIVED neurotrophic factor (GDNF)  is a potent survival factor for central and peripheral neurons [2-6], and is essential for the development of kidneys and the enteric nervous system [7-9]. Despite the potential clinical and physiological importance of GDNF, its mechanism of action is unknown. Here we show that physiological responses to GDNF require the presence of a novel glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol (GPI)-linked protein (designated GDNFR-alpha) that is expressed on GDNF-responsive cells and binds GDNF with a high affinity. We further demonstrate that GDNF promotes the formation of a physical complex between GDNFR-alpha and the orphan tyrosine kinase receptor Ret [10-12], thereby inducing its tyrosine phosphorylation. These findings support the hypothesis that GDNF uses a multi-subunit receptor system in which GDNFR-alpha and Ret function as the ligand-binding and signalling components, respectively.