This study examined the isolation and differentiation of dorsal root ganglion progenitor cells for therapeutic use in neurodegenerative diseases. Rat embryonic dorsal root ganglia progenitors were isolated and purified using the differential adhesion method combined with cytosine arabinoside treatment. After culture in serum-free medium supplemented with B27, basic fibroblast growth factor and epidermal growth factor, these cells remained viable and survived for more than 18 months in vitro. Most cells differentiated to neurons that were immunoreactive for gamma-aminobutyric acid and choline acetyltransferase as detected by immunohistochemical staining. In addition, nerve growth factor and neurotrophic tyrosine kinase receptor expression were also observed in dorsal root ganglion progenitors and differentiated cells. K252a, an inhibitor that blocks nerve growth factor-induced signaling, inhibited cell survival, suggesting the possible existence of a nerve growth factor autocrine loop in these proliferating cells.