This study examined the roles of nerve growth factor (NGF) and the p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR) in the growth of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) central processes in the dorsal horn. Two genetically modified mouse strains were used: transgenic mice that overexpress NGF in the CNS under the control of the glial fibrillary acidic protein promoter, and p75NTR exon III null mutant mice that express a hypomorphic form of this receptor. In both NGF transgenic and nontransgenic mice with hypomorphic expression of p75NTR, there is a significant loss of DRG neurons compared to mice with normal p75NTR expression. This reduction in neuron number has been shown to underlie a corresponding decrease in peripheral nociceptive sensory innervation. Within the CNS, however, nociceptive innervation of the dorsal horn appears to be unaffected by hypomorphic expression of p75NTR. Comparisons of calcitonin gene-related peptide immunoreactivity in the dorsal horn revealed that the area occupied by DRG central processes was not significantly different between p75NTR hypomorphic mice and wild-type siblings, or between NGF transgenic mice with either hypomorphic or normal expression of p75NTR. We propose that DRG central processes arborize extensively in both NGF-transgenic and nontransgenic p75NTR hypomorphic mice in order to compensate for the loss of DRG neurons and restore dorsal horn innervation to normal levels. We also present evidence suggesting that NGF plays only a minor role in the growth of DRG central processes.