Although many pharmacological studies indicate that bulbospinal noradrenergic projections contribute to antinociception, lesions of the major brainstem noradrenergic cell groups have provided conflicting evidence. Here we used a new immunotoxin, anti-dopamine beta-hydroxylase-saporin, to re-examine the contribution of noradrenergic pathways to nociception and to morphine analgesia. We treated rats intrathecally by lumbar puncture with the immunotoxin and examined dopamine beta-hydroxylase (DbetaH) immunoreactivity seven and 14 days after treatment. There was no change in DbetaH staining at 7 days; however, 14 days after treatment we demonstrated significant destruction of noradrenergic neurons in the locus coeruleus and in the A5 and A7 cell groups. There was a concomitant loss of noradrenergic axons in the dorsal and ventral horns of the lumbosacral and cervical cord. Consistent with the lack of anatomical changes, we found no difference in nociceptive responses in the hot-plate, tail-flick or formalin tests one week post-toxin. On day 14 we examined the behavioral response to injection of formalin into the hindpaw and found that responses during the second phase of pain behavior were significantly reduced. There was no change during the first phase. Formalin-evoked fos expression in the spinal cord was also reduced. We also evaluated morphine analgesia in the formalin test and found that toxin-treated animals exhibited enhanced morphine analgesia. These results establish the utility of using this immunotoxin to selectively destroy subpopulations of noradrenergic cell groups and provide evidence that acute and persistent nociception are differentially regulated by descending noradrenergic pathways.