Estrogen affects many aspects of the nervous system, including pain sensitivity and neural regulation of vascular function. We have shown that estrogen elevation increases sensory nociceptor innervation of arterioles in Sprague–Dawley rat mammary gland, external ear and mesentery, suggesting widespread effects on sensory vasodilatory innervation. However, it is unclear whether estrogen elicits nociceptor hyperinnervation by promoting target release of neurotrophic factors, or by direct effects on sensory neurons. To determine if estrogen may promote axon sprouting by increasing release of target-derived diffusible factors, dorsal root ganglia explants were co-cultured with mesenteric arterioles for 36 h in the absence or presence of 17β-estradiol (E2). Mesenteric arteriolar target substantially increased neurite outgrowth from explanted ganglia, but estrogen had no effect on outgrowth, suggesting that estrogen does not increase the availability of trophic proteins responsible for target-induced neurite outgrowth. To assess the direct effects of estrogen, dissociated neonatal dorsal root ganglion neurons were cultured for 3 days in the absence or presence of E2 and nerve growth factor (NGF; 1–10 ng/mL), and immunostained for the nociceptor markers peripherin or calcitonin gene-related peptide. NGF increased neuron size, survival and numbers of neurons with neurites, but did not affect neurite area per neuron. Estrogen did not affect neuron survival, size or numbers of neurons with neurites, but did increase neurite area per neuron. The effects of these agents were not synergistic. We conclude that estrogen exerts direct effects on nociceptor neurons to promote axon outgrowth, and this occurs through an NGF-independent mechanism.