Peripheral injury produces long term changes in peptide content in dorsal root ganglion (DRG) cells that contribute to the inflammatory process in the periphery and neuronal plasticity in the spinal cord. We report here the proportion of colonic afferents labeled for calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), substance P (SP) or somatostatin (Som) in the T13-L2 and L6-S2 DRG and changes in the percentage of SP or CGRP labeled afferents 6, 24, and 72 h following induction of experimental colitis. Following injection of fluorogold (FG) into the descending colon, significantly more FG labeled DRG cells were observed in the T13-L2 than L6-S2 DRG. In noninflamed rats, in both spinal regions, 60-70% of the colonic afferents that were labeled with FG were double labeled for SP. Similar results were obtained when double labeling for CGRP. Only 20-30% of the FG labeled afferents were double labeled for Som. Following experimental colitis induced by intracolonic zymosan, there was a significant decrease in the percentage of cells double labeled for SP in the T13-L2 and L6-S2 DRG at 6, 24, and 72 h. The percentage of CGRP double labeled cells was decreased in the T13-L2 DRG at all time points, but only at 24 h in the L6-S2 DRG. The cell bodies of CGRP labeled colonic afferents were significantly larger than SP or Som in control rats. Inflammation did not affect the mean size of the double labeled cells. These results suggest that colonic inflammation increases SP and CGRP release in the spinal cord and the colon that is manifest as a decrease in peptide content in the cell bodies of the colonic afferents during the first 72 h following injury.