The purpose of the present investigation was to determine whether calbindin-D28k and parvalbumin are distributed to different subpopulations of somatic and visceral sensory neurons. Immunofluorescent and retrograde techniques were combined to examine the distribution of calbindin- and parvalbumin-like immunoreactivity in the cell bodies of somatic and visceral primary afferent neurons in dorsal root ganglia L1-S1 of rats. Calbindin and parvalbumin were differentially distributed to essentially non-overlapping subpopulations of primary sensory neurons that could be distinguished by their segmental and size distributions, as well as by their innervation of somatic and visceral structures. Calbindin-like immunoreactivity was found in a population of smaller-sized cell bodies comprising approximately 14% of all dorsal root ganglion cells examined, with the proportions being greatest in L6 and S1. In contrast, parvalbumin was found in a population of larger-sized cells that made up about 11% of dorsal root ganglion cells and that were most concentrated in L4 and L5. Sensory neurons were further characterized by retrograde transport following the application of the neuroanatomical tracer FluoroGold to somatic (sural and gastrocnemius) and visceral (hypogastric and pelvic) nerves. Somatic tissues were innervated by a population of calbindin-containing as well as a separate population of parvalbumin-containing sensory neurons. In contrast, afferent neurons innervating visceral structures contained only a subpopulation of calbindin-containing neurons and very few parvalbumin-positive cells.