Degeneration of cholinergic basal forebrain neurons (CBFN) is a hallmark in the pathology of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Critically depending upon the neurotrophic support through nerve growth factor (NGF), CBFN in the AD brain face elevated concentrations of the pro-form of NGF (proNGF) and suffer from an imbalance between TrkA and p75NTR expression. Research for the underlying mechanisms of CBFN death suggested a pro-apoptotic activity of proNGF. However, this finding could not be confirmed by all investigators and other studies even observed a neurotrophic function of proNGF. In the presence of these controversial findings we investigated the activity of proNGF in PC12 cells with specific emphasis on its neurotoxic versus neurotrophic action. In this study, we show that proNGF can mediate TrkA receptor signaling directly, yet in the manner of a partial agonist with a lower maximum activity than NGF. A pro-apoptotic activity of proNGF could not be confirmed in our cellular system. Interestingly and surprisingly, pre-incubation with proNGF at low, sub-active concentrations inhibited TrkA-mediated neurotrophic NGF signaling in PC12 cells. Our data support a novel hypothesis for the role of elevated proNGF levels in CBFN pathology in AD. Thus, proNGF can indirectly contribute to the slow neurodegeneration in AD by reducing NGF-mediated trophic support.