During the development of the sympathetic nervous system, the p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR) has a dual function: promoting survival together with TrkA in response to NGF, but inducing cell death upon binding pro or mature brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Apoptotic signaling through p75NTR requires activation of the stress kinase, JNK. However, the receptor also undergoes regulated proteolysis, first by a metalloprotease, and then by gamma-secretase, in response to pro-apoptotic ligands and this is necessary for receptor mediated neuronal death (Kenchappa, R. S., Zampieri, N., Chao, M. V., Barker, P. A., Teng, H. K., Hempstead, B. L., and Carter, B. D. (2006) Neuron 50, 219-232). Hence, the relationship between JNK activation and receptor proteolysis remains to be defined. Here, we report that JNK3 activation is necessary for p75NTR cleavage; however, following release of the intracellular domain, there is a secondary activation of JNK3 that is cleavage dependent. Receptor proteolysis and apoptosis were prevented in sympathetic neurons from jnk3(-/-) mice, while activation of JNK by ectopic expression of MEKK1 induced p75NTR cleavage and cell death. Proteolysis of the receptor was not detected until 6 h after BDNF treatment, suggesting that JNK3 promotes cleavage through a transcriptional mechanism. In support of this hypothesis, BDNF up-regulated tumor necrosis factor-alpha-converting enzyme (TACE)/ADAM17 mRNA and protein in wild-type, but not jnk3(-/-) sympathetic neurons. Down-regulation of TACE by RNA interference blocked BDNF-induced p75NTR cleavage and apoptosis, indicating that this metalloprotease is responsible for the initial processing of the receptor. Together, these results demonstrate that p75NTR-mediated activation of JNK3 is required for up-regulation of TACE, which promotes receptor proteolysis, leading to prolonged activation of JNK3 and subsequent apoptosis in sympathetic neurons.