To determine whether neurotrophins act on functionally distinct populations of adult sensory neurons, the distributions of mRNAs for TrkA and tyrosine kinase-containing isoforms of TrkB and TrkC were determined in rat DRG neurons projecting to different peripheral targets. Whereas trkA was expressed by a very high percentage of visceral afferents, trkC was expressed frequently only in muscle afferents. Among cutaneous afferents, the size distributions for trkA- and trkC-positive cells showed little overlap. The percentages and size distributions of cells labeled for the trks argue strongly that almost all trkB-expressing cells must also express trkA or trkC. These results indicate that NGF and NT-3 act on functionally distinct populations of adult sensory neurons and suggest that a sizeable number of small DRG neurons may not respond to neurotrophins via a known Trk in the adult rat.