Early kidney differentiation is driven by local cell-cell interactions. The metanephrogenic mesenchyme stimulates the epithelial ureter bud to grow and branch, whereas the ureter bud stimulates the mesenchyme to convert into a new epithelium. These interactions may be dependent on local growth factors and their receptors. We studied the expression of receptors for nerve growth factors during kidney development. Expression of the low- and high-affinity receptors was cell-type specific. The low-affinity NGF receptor was found in the uninduced mesenchyme at early developmental stages, but in the glomerular podocytes at later developmental stages. In contrast, the high-affinity trkB receptor was found in the cortical mesenchyme cells that will differentiate into stroma. The trkC receptor was found only weakly expressed and in a few parts of the collecting ducts. The role of these receptors and c-ros, a receptor-type kinase expressed on the tip of the ureter bud, was studied by modified antisense oligonucleotides. However, we found that both sense, antisense and nonsense phosphorothioate oligonucleotides inhibited mouse and rat embryonic kidney development in vitro. The oligonucleotides appeared to be toxic for rodent embryonic kidneys in the experimental conditions that we used. Moreover, oligonucleotides did not penetrate well into the epithelial sheets in the organ cultures. We conclude that studies with phosphorothioate antisense oligonucleotides in organ cultures of embryonic kidneys should be interpreted with caution. Our current data do not allow us to not assign a function for the low- or high-affinity NGF receptors or c-ros in kidney development.