Skin innervation during wound healing was investigated using immunocytochemical staining with the panneuronal marker antiprotein gene product (PGP) 9.5, which labels the entire innervation of the skin throughout development and in the adult. Full-thickness skin wounds in the hairy skin of the foot in neonatal rats result in pronounced hyperinnervation of the tissue that persists long after the wound has healed (at least 12 weeks). Quantification of this hyperinnervation by image analysis indicates that slcoin innervation density in the wounded area can increase up to 300%. The effect is greatest when wounds are performed at postnatal day (P) 0 or 7, declining when performed at P14 and P21 to resemble the weaker and transient effect in the adult. Staining with selective markers for different neuronal populations innervating skin (monoclonal anti-RT97 staining the myelinated axons of large light sensory ganglion cells; anticalcitonin gene-related peptide staining unmyelinated C axons, thinly myelinated Aδ axons, and a subpopulation of large A fibres) reveal that both A- and C-fibre sensory axons contribute to this response. Destruction of the majority of the C-fibre population with neonatal capsaicin pretreatment, which leaves large, A fibres intact, significantly reduces the hyperinnervation response at 14 days, confirming a major contribution from both A and C-fibres. Sympathetic axons, stained with anti-tyrosine hydroxylase, do not sprout into the wounded area. Furthermore, pretreatment of neonates with 6–hydroxydopamine, which destroys the sympathetic innervation, does not significantly reduce the overall sprouting response, as identified by anti-PGP9. 5 staining. Behavioural sensory testing revealed a 50% drop in the mechanical threshold in the wounded area after 3 weeks. These remarkably long-term and specific effects on sensory terminal axons following neonatal skin wounding indicate the plasticity of cutaneous innervation density following alterations in the target tissue at a critical stage of development. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.