During development, axonal growth cones are guided to their appropriate targets by many attractive and repulsive cues. It has become increasingly clear over the last few years that how the growth cone responds to these cues depends both on the molecular nature of the cue and on the internal state of the neuron. The unexpected result is that the same molecule can act as an attractor or as a repellent. A number of guidance cues used by neurons during development are retained in the adult nervous system, where their function is often still unclear. Most of these molecules are implicated in plasticity in the adult nervous system and can play a role (sometimes maladaptive) in neuronal regeneration after injury. A group of axonal guidance cues that has been well studied in development is the semaphorin family of secreted and membrane-anchored proteins, which has been implicated in axon steering, fasciculation, branching and synapse formation. This review focuses on semaphorin-3A (probably the best-characterized semaphorin) and its receptors (in particular neuropilin-1) in the adult nervous system and argues that semaphorin-3A plays a role in the maintenance and regeneration of adult sensory neurons.