Nerve growth factor (NGF) is synthesized in cutaneous wound tissue, and its higher levels in the neonate may contribute to more efficient wound healing. We used in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry to define NGF mRNA and protein expression in intact skin and following excision wounding in neonatal and adult rats. To determine whether NGF is associated with wound contractile fibroblasts (myofibroblasts), we also examined expression of alpha-smooth muscle actin (alpha-SMA) mRNA and protein, established markers for these cells. In intact skin, NGF mRNA and protein were present in vascular and arrector pili smooth muscle, hair follicle sheath cells, keratinocytes, and hypodermal fibroblasts. Neonatal adipocytes and Schwann cells also expressed NGF mRNA and protein, while adult adipocytes and Schwann cells displayed only NGF-ir. Following wounding, NGF mRNA expression was exuberant in these cell types, and increased similarly at both ages and appeared de novo in skeletal muscle cells. Additionally, both NGF mRNA and protein were present in macrophages and myofibroblasts, and expression in myofibroblasts was significantly greater in neonates. Wound myofibroblasts also expressed alpha-SMA. Surprisingly, after wounding alpha-SMA mRNA and protein were present in essentially all cells in which NGF mRNA was detected. We conclude that NGF expression is enhanced in many cell types after wounding, but greater NGF synthesis in neonates appears to be due to a more robust myofibroblast response. In addition, cell types which demonstrated NGF mRNA also expressed alpha-SMA, and staining for both markers increased following wounding, suggesting synthesis of both proteins is regulated in a coordinated fashion.