Results of electrophysiological studies suggest a significant role of the lateral spinal nucleus (LSpN) in the transmission of nociceptive signals. In our study, the presence of Fos immunoreactivity and NADPH-diaphorase positivity was observed in the rat LSpN following noxious peripheral subcutaneous stimulation. Formalin-induced unilateral hindpaw stimulation in the rat caused bilateral NADPH-d reactivity and ipsilateral Fos expression in this nucleus. In the LSpN of the L3-L5 segments of stimulated rats, on average, 4.1 +/- 1.2 NADPH-d-positive, NADPH-d(+), 5.1+1.8 Fos-immunoreactive, Fos(+), and 3.0 +/- 1.1 double-labeled neurons per 25-mu m-thick section were found unilaterally. A close anatomical relationship between NADPH-d(+) processes and Fos(+) cell nuclei in the LSpN was also observed following noxious peripheral stimulation. These neuroanatomical findings support the hypothesis that the LSpN is involved in pain processing and suggest an important role of nitric oxide-mediated signal transduction in this nucleus.