Neuregulin-1 (NRG-1) growth and differentiation factors and their erbB receptors are hypothesized to promote embryonic hippocampal neuron differentiation via as yet unknown mechanisms. We have found that NRG-1β increases the outgrowth of primary neurites, neuronal area, total neurite length, and neuritic branching in E18 hippocampal neurons. NRG-1β effects on neurite extension and arborization are similar to, but not additive with, those of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and reflect direct NRG-1 action on hippocampal neurons as these cells express the NRG-1 receptors erbB2 and erbB4, the erbB-specific inhibitor PD158780 decreases NRG-1β induced neurite outgrowth, and NRG-1β stimulation induces p42/44 ERK phosphorylation. Pharmacological inhibition of p42/44 ERK and protein kinase C (PKC), but not PI3K or p38 MAP kinase, inhibits NRG-1β-induced neurite extension and elaboration. We conclude that NRG-1β stimulates hippocampal neurite extension and arborization via a signaling pathway that involves erbB membrane tyrosine kinases (erbB2 and/or erbB4), p42/44 ERK, and PKC. © 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.