We have investigated the NGF dependence of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons in mammals using a paradigm of multiple in utero injections of a high titer anti-NGF antiserum. We have determined the specificity of our antiserum in relation to other members of the NGF neurotrophin family and found no cross-reactivity with brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) or neurotrophin-3 (NT-3). To identify various classes of DRG neurons, we have stained their characteristic central projections with Dil. We show here that the NGF dependence of DRG neurons is strikingly selective. Although a majority of DRG neurons are lost after NGF deprivation during embryonic life, these are almost exclusively small diameter neurons that project to laminae I and II of the dorsal horn and presumably subserve nociception and thermoreception. Larger neurons that project to more ventral spinal laminae and subserve other sensory modalities do not require NGF for survival. These NGF-independent DRG neurons likely require one of the more recently identified neurotrophins, BDNF or NT-3.