Although it is well established that both follicular assembly and the initiation of follicle growth in the mammalian ovary occur independently of pituitary hormone support, the factors controlling these processes remain poorly understood. We now report that neurotrophins (NTs) signaling via TrkB receptors are required for the growth of newly formed follicles. Both neurotrophin-4/5 (NT-4) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), the preferred TrkB ligands, are expressed in the infantile mouse ovary. Initially, they are present in oocytes, but this site of expression switches to granulosa cells after the newly assembled primordial follicles develop into growing primary follicles. Full-length kinase domain-containing TrkB receptors are expressed at low and seemingly unchanging levels in the oocytes and granulosa cells of both primordial and growing follicles. In contrast, a truncated TrkB isoform lacking the intracellular domain of the receptor is selectively expressed in oocytes, where it is targeted to the cell membrane as primary follicles initiate growth. Using gene-targeted mice lacking all TrkB isoforms, we show that the ovaries of these mice or those lacking both NT-4 and BDNF suffer a stage-selective deficiency in early follicular development that compromises the ability of follicles to grow beyond the primary stage. Proliferation of granulosa cells-required for this transition-and expression of FSH receptors (FSHR), which reflects the degree of biochemical differentiation of growing follicles, are reduced in trkB-null mice. Ovaries from these animals grafted under the kidney capsule of wild-type mice fail to sustain follicular growth and show a striking loss of follicular organization, preceded by massive oocyte death. These results indicate that TrkB receptors are required for the early growth of ovarian follicles and that they exert this function by primarily supporting oocyte development as well as providing granulosa cells with a proliferative signal that requires oocyte-somatic cell bidirectional communication. The predominance of truncated TrkB receptors in oocytes and their developmental pattern of subcellular expression suggest that a significant number of NT-4/BDNF actions in the developing mammalian ovary are mediated by these receptors.