Macrophage stimulating protein (MSP) is a pleiotropic growth factor that signals via the RON receptor tyrosine kinase. Here we demonstrate that MSP increases the proportion of cultured adult mouse DRG neurons displaying discernable neuritic processes and promotes the elongation and branching of these processes in a dose dependent manner. RON expression in adult DRG is largely restricted to nerve growth factor (NGF)-responsive nociceptive neurons, and MSP mimics the effects of NGF by increasing the expression of several mRNAs that encode functionally important proteins that are characteristically expressed by this neuronal sub-population. MSP mRNA is expressed at high levels in the peripheral target fields of DRG somatic afferents, but is undetectable in DRG, spinal cord or freshly dissected sciatic nerve. These results suggest that MSP is a peripheral target-derived neurotrophic factor for NGF-responsive adult DRG neurons.