Approximately one half of the neurons in the lumbar dorsal root ganglion of adult rats display high-affinity receptors for nerve growth factor (NGF). To ascertain which types of sensory neurons are potentially responsive to NGF, adjacent cryostat sections of rat dorsal root ganglia were processed either for NGF-receptor using radioautography or by one of four histochemical procedures. Histograms of the densities of neuronal labelling by radioiodinated NGF were examined for subpopulations of lumbar sensory neurons with thiamine monophosphatase enzyme activity or with immunoreactivity for calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), substance P, or somatostatin. Virtually all neurons with strong CGRP immunoreactivity had high-affinity NGF binding sites, although some neurons with faintly positive CGRP immunoreactivity lacked such NGF binding. A subpopulation of large neurons, approximately 5% of the total, had dense labelling by 125I-NGF but were not stained by this immunohistochemical technique for CGRP. Of the three major populations of small neurons those with substance P immunoreactivity were consistently and heavily labelled by radioiodinated NGF whereas those with somatostatin immunoreactivity or thiamine monophosphatase activity were not specifically labelled by radioautography. For these primary sensory neurons in mature rats the genes for substance P and CGRP seem to be strongly expressed only in neurons capable of responding to NGF. On the other hand, neurons containing somatostatin and thiamine monophosphatase invariably lack high-affinity NGF receptors.