Nerve growth factor (NGF) and its main low- (p75LNGFR) and high-affinity (TrkA) receptors have been found in the vertebrate thymus, thus suggesting they are involved in the control of thymic function. However, its role in this organ is poorly known. In the present study we used combined morphological and immunohistochemical techniques to analyze the distribution of TrkA and p75LNGFR in the rat thymus, as well as the structural changes in the thymus of p75 LNGFR or TrkA deficient mice. In adult rats both TrkA and p75LNGFR were localized in a subset of thymic epithelial cells found primarily in the subcapsular and medullary thymic regions, regarded to be endodermal-derived cells. Consistently, animals with a non-functional TrkA, but not those lacking p75LNGFR, showed structural changes consisting of a decrease in the density of thymocytes, absence of cortico-medullary border, and large cysts lined of endodermal epithelium. These results strongly suggest a function of the TrkA-NGF system in thymic functions mediated by epithelial cells, as well as a role of TrkA in the development of the murine thymus. The function of p75LNGFR remains to be established.