Previous work has shown that administration of the neurotrophin NT-3 intrathecally or to the proximal stump can prevent axotomy-induced sensory neuron loss and that NT-3 can stimulate sensory neuron differentiation in vitro. We have examined the effect of axotomy and systemic NT-3 administration on neuronal loss, apoptosis (defined by morphology and activated caspase-3 immunoreactivity), and nestin expression (a protein expressed by neuronal precursor cells) in dorsal root ganglia (DRG) following axotomy of the adult rat sciatic nerve. Systemic administration of 1.25 or 5 mg of NT-3 over 1 month had no effect on the incidence of apoptotic neurons but prevented the overall loss of neurons seen at 4 weeks in vehicle-treated animals. Nestin-immunoreactive neurons began to appear 2 weeks after sciatic transection in untreated animals and steadily increased in incidence over the next 6 weeks. NT-3 administration increased the number of nestin-immunoreactive neurons at 1 month by two- to threefold. Nestin-IR neurons had a mean diameter of 20.78 ± 2.5 μm and expressed the neuronal markers neurofilament 200, βIII-tubulin, protein gene product 9.5, growth associated protein 43, trkA, and calcitonin gene-related peptide. Our results suggest that the presence of nestin in DRG neurons after nerve injury is due to recent differentiation and that exogenous NT-3 may prevent neuron loss by stimulating this process, rather than preventing neuron death. J. Comp. Neurol. 482:320–332, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.