During development, a highly differential neurotrophin dependency is reported for various types of nerve endings in the whisker follicle. To what extent these dependencies extend and play a role in adulthood is largely unresolved. We show here, using in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry that the expression of neurotrophins and trk/p75 receptors persists in adulthood. As suggested by their expression profiles, many classes of cutaneous nerve endings disclose similar ligand–receptor dependencies in adult animals as during development, while other populations appear to switch their dependency. Furthermore, our data suggest that sensory endings that have a high turnover due to mechanical wear and tear, e.g. Merkel cell–neurite complexes at the level of ring sinus show a more complex ligand–receptor expression phenotype than do endings with a less vulnerable location, e.g. the Merkel cell–neurite complexes at the rete ridge collar. Thus, neurotrophin-3 (NT3)/trkA signalling is suggested to be important for a continuous terminal plasticity of Merkel cell–neurite complexes at the level of ring sinus in adulthood. Evidence supporting a role for neurotrophin signalling in maintaining the adult cutaneous innervation also comes from the close correlation between altered ligand–receptor expression(s) and axonal/terminal aberrations in senescence. Thus, an ageing-related decrease in target neurotrophin expression, notably NT3 and NT4, results in a site-specific loss of sensory terminals concomitant with an aberrant growth of regenerating/sprouting axons into new target fields. Ageing of the cutaneous innervation, manifested in degenerative and regenerative events, seems strongly associated with changes in neurotrophic interactions between sensory neurons and target tissues.