Sensory neurons of the dorsal root ganglia (DRG) regenerate their peripheral axons with relative ease following a nerve lesion. The capacity for central regeneration appears more limited. However, after nerve lesion, some DRG neurons gain a regenerative advantage to sprout centrally. We developed a lesion model in the rat to test whether, after prior lesion of their peripheral axons, subsets of cutaneous afferents benefit differently in their ability to sprout into adjacent spinal segments denervated by dorsal rhizotomy. We found that under identical circumstances, myelinated sensory neurons, small-diameter peptidergic sensory neurons containing calcitonin gene related peptide (CGRP), and small-diameter nonpeptidergic neurons that bind the lectin from the plant Griffonia simplificolia, isolectin B4 (IB4) differ dramatically in their ability to regenerate centrally. Myelinated afferent terminals labelled transganglionically with cholera-toxin beta-subunit gain a small advantage in collaterally sprouting into the adjacent denervated neuropil in lamina III after prior peripheral nerve lesion. This central regenerative response was not mimicked by experimentally induced inflammation of sensory neuron cell bodies. Intact and unlesioned sensory neurons positive for CGRP sprout vigorously into segments denervated by rhizotomy in a nonsomatotopic manner. In contrast, IB4-positive sensory neurons maintain a somatotopic distribution centrally, which is not altered by prior nerve lesion. These data reveal a remarkably heterogeneous response to regeneration-promoting stimuli amongst three different types of cutaneous sensory neurons. In particular, the divergent responses of peptidergic and nonpeptidergic sensory neurons suggests profound functional differences between these neurochemically distinct neurons.