We have previously demonstrated that administration of antisera against NGF (anti-NGF) can have profound effects on developing primary afferents (Ritter et al., 1991). Chronic administration of anti-NGF to rats beginning on the day of birth results in a severe depletion of cutaneous A delta high-threshold mechanoreceptors (HTMRs) from the sural nerve. Here we have carried out further experiments in order to define the period of time over which this change in the cutaneous afferent population can be produced, and to investigate a possible mechanism for the change. Treatment with anti-NGF from postnatal day (PND) 0–14 resulted in a depletion of cutaneous A delta HTMRs from the sural nerve and also a 20% loss of sensory neurons. However, treatment from PND 2–14 produced an identical deficit of HTMRs without any accompanying cell death. Thus, the depletion of cutaneous A delta HTMRs can be achieved in the absence of cell death induced by anti-NGF treatment. It was also found that a 7 d treatment from PND 4–11 was sufficient to reproduce this effect, but that 7 d treatments earlier (PND 2–9) or later (PND 7–14) within the first 2 weeks were much less effective. This critical period, PND 4–11, corresponds to a period of anatomical change in the innervation of the skin, from epidermal innervation to primarily dermal innervation (Fitzgerald, 1967; Reynolds et al., 1991). In every case where anti-NGF treatment reduced the proportion of HTMRs, there was a reciprocal increase in the proportion of sensitive A delta hair follicle (D-hair) afferents. We hypothesize that in the absence of NGF, developing cutaneous A delta HTMRs do not die but innervate novel targets in the dermis and become D-hair afferents instead.