Touch doems are clearly delineated mechanoreceptors that are visible on the depilated skin of mammals. These structures consist of a sharply circumscribed disk of thickened epithelium surmounting a group of Merkel cells that are innervated by type I sensory neurons. These characteristic cutaneous structures provide an ideal opportunity for investigating whether the localization of nerve growth factor (NGF) in the skin related to sites of sensory axon termination. For these reasons, we have used immunocytochemistry to study the distribution of NGF and the low-affinity NGF receptor (p75NGFR) in the touch domes of adult rat skin. Intense NGF-like immunoreactivity was sharply restricted to keratinocytes (excluding the stratum corneum) of the thickened epidermis of the touch domes. The epidermis immediately surrounding touch domes and the epidermis of the tylotrich hair follicle associated with touch domes were immunonegative for NGF but were immunopositive for p75NGFR as werer the type I nerve endings innervating these cells. Quantitative Northern blotting revealed that the level of NGF mRNA was substantially higher in keratinocytes isolated from the stratum granulosum and stratum spinosum than in keratinocytes isolated from the stratum germinativum. These findings indicate that NGF synthesis in mature skin has a highly restricted regional distribution that is primarily associated with the innervation of a specialized touch receptor. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.