We have previously shown that the RNA-binding protein HuD binds to a regulatory element in the growth-associated protein (GAP)-43 mRNA and that this interaction involves its first two RNA recognition motifs (RRMs). In this study, we investigated the functional significance of this interaction by overexpression of human HuD protein (pcHuD) or its truncated form lacking the third RRM (pcHuD I+II) in PC12 cells. Morphological analysis revealed that pcHuD cells extended short neurites containing GAP-43-positive growth cones in the absence of nerve growth factor (NGF). These processes also contained tubulin and F-actin filaments but were not stained with antibodies against neurofilament M protein. In correlation with this phenotype, pcHuD cells contained higher levels of GAP-43 without changes in levels of other NGF-induced proteins, such as SNAP-25 and tau. In mRNA decay studies, HuD stabilized the GAP-43 mRNA, whereas HuD I+II did not have any effect either on GAP-43 mRNA stability or on the levels of GAP-43 protein. Likewise, pcHuD I+II cells showed no spontaneous neurite outgrowth and deficient outgrowth in response to NGF. Our results indicate that HuD is sufficient to increase GAP-43 gene expression and neurite outgrowth in the absence of NGF and that the third RRM in the protein is critical for this function.