Neurons in the geniculate ganglion, like those in other sensory ganglia, are dependent on neurotrophins for survival. Most geniculate ganglion neurons innervate taste buds in two regions of the tongue and two regions of the palate; the rest are cutaneous nerves to the skin of the ear. We investigated the expression of four neurotrophins, nerve growth factor (NGF), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), neurotrophin 3 (NT-3), and NT-4, and five neurotrophin receptors, trkA, trkB, trkC, p75, and truncated trkB (Trn-B) in single sensory neurons of the adult rat geniculate ganglion associated with the five innervation fields. For fungiform papillae, a glass pipette containing biotinylated dextran was placed over the target papilla and the tracer was iontophoresed into the target papilla. For the other target fields, Fluoro-Gold was microinjected. After 3 days, geniculate ganglia were harvested, sectioned, and treated histochemically (for biotinylated dextran) or immunohistochemically (for Fluoro-Gold) to reveal the neurons containing the tracer. Single labeled neurons were harvested from the slides and subjected to RNA amplification and RT-PCR to reveal the neurotrophin or neurotrophin receptor genes that were expressed. Neurons projecting from the geniculate ganglion to each of the five target fields had a unique expression profile of neurotrophin and neurotrophic receptor genes. Several individual neurons expressed more than one neurotrophin receptor or more than one neurotrophin gene. Although BDNF is significantly expressed in taste buds, its primary high affinity receptor, trkB, was not prominently expressed in the neurons. The results are consistent with the interpretation that at least some, perhaps most, of the trophic influence on the sensory neurons is derived from the neuronal somata, and the trophic effect is paracrine or autocrine, rather than target derived. The BDNF in the taste bud may also act in a paracrine or autocrine manner on the trkB expressed in taste buds, as shown by others. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.