Spinal cord injury causes damage to ascending and descending tracts, as well as to local circuits, but relatively little is known about the effect of such injury on sensory neurons located within adjoining ganglia. We have therefore used immunocytochemistry for activating transcription factor-3 (ATF3), a sensitive marker of axonal damage, in order to examine the effects of spinal cord injury in rats on dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons. A 50-g static compression injury applied to the dorsal surface of the T12 thoracic spinal cord led to an up-regulation of ATF3 that was maximal at 1 day and affected 12–14% of DRG neurons in ganglia caudal to the injury (T13–L3). A similar response was seen after a T12 hemisection that transected the dorsal columns except that compression injury, but not hemisection, also evoked ATF3 expression in ganglia just rostral to the injury (T10, T11). ATF3 was up-regulated exclusively in DRG neurons that were of large diameter and immunoreactive for heavy neurofilament. Small-diameter cells, including the population that binds the lectin Grifffonia simplicifolia IB4, did not express ATF3 immunoreactivity. A similar pattern of ATF3 expression was induced by dorsal rhizotomy. The data show for the first time that ATF3 is up-regulated after spinal cord and dorsal root injury, but that this up-regulation is confined to the large-diameter cell population.