Possible sex-related differences in the extent of collateral sprouting of noninjured nociceptive axons after peripheral nerve injury were examined. In the first experiment, peroneal, tibial, and saphenous nerves were transected and ligated in female and male rats. Eight weeks after nerve injury, skin pinch tests revealed that the nociceptive area of the noninjured sural nerve in the instep skin expanded faster in females; the final result was a 30% larger increase in females than in males. In the second experiment, the end-to-side nerve anastomosis was used as a model for axon sprouting. In addition to the previous procedure, the end of an excised peroneal nerve segment was sutured to the side of the intact sural nerve. Eight weeks later, collateral sprouting of nociceptive axons into the anastomosed peroneal nerve segment was assessed by the nerve pinch test and axon counting. There was no significant difference with respect to the percentages of male and female rats with a positive nerve pinch test. The number of myelinated axons in the anastomosed nerve segment was significantly larger in female (456 +/- 217) than in male (202 +/- 150) rats, but the numbers of unmyelinated axons were not significantly different. In normal sural nerves, the numbers of either all myelinated axons or thin myelinated axons did not significantly differ between the two sexes. Therefore, the more extensive collateral axon sprouting observed in female than in male rats is probably due to the higher sprouting capacity of thin myelinated sensory axons in females.