Using autoradiographic techniques carried out under precise conditions we previously demonstrated that both sensory neurons and peripheral glial cells in dorsal root ganglia (DRG) or sciatic nerve, possess specific [125I]-labeled T3 binding sites. Thyroid hormone receptors (TR) include several isoforms (TR alpha(1), TR alpha(2), TR beta(1), TR beta(2...)) The present study demonstrates that while sensory neurons and peripheral glial cells both possess functional TR, they express a differential expression of TR isoforms. Using a panel of antisera to specific for the TR alpha-common (alpha(1) and alpha(2)), TR alpha-1 or TR beta-1 isoforms, we detected TRs isoform localization at the cellular level during DRG and sciatic nerve development and regeneration. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed that during embryonic life, sensory neurons express TR alpha-common and TR beta-1 rather than TR alpha-1. The number of TR alpha-common and TR beta-1 positive neurons as well as the intensity of labeling increased during the first two postnatal weeks and remained more or less stable in adult life. TR alpha-1 immunoreactivity, which was undetectable in embryonic sensory neurons, became discreetly visible in neurons after birth. In developing DRG and sciatic nerves, Schwann cells exhibited TR alpha-common and TR alpha-1 rather than TR beta-1 immunolabeling. The appearance of TR alpha-common and alpha-1 isoform immunoreactivity in the sciatic nerve was restricted to a short period ranging from E17 up to two postnatal weeks. By comparing TR alpha-common and TR alpha-1 immunostaining we can deduce that Schwann cells primarily express TR alpha-1. Afterwards, in adult rat sciatic nerve TR alpha isoforms was no more detected. However transection of sciatic nerve caused a reexpression of TR alpha isoforms in degenerating nerve. The prevalence of TR alpha in Schwann cells in vivo was correlated with in vitro results. The differential expression of TR alpha and beta by sensory neurons and Schwann cells indicates that the feedback regulation of circulating thyroid hormone could occur by binding to either the alpha or beta TR isoforms. Moreover, the presence of multiple receptor isoforms in developing sensory neurons suggests that thyroid hormone uses multiple signaling pathways to regulate DRG and sciatic nerve development.