Natural forms of stimulation were used to compare the spontaneous and evoked activity of dorsal horn neurons in three groups of rats: controls with no surgical lesion, rats with transection of the sciatic nerve and rats with transection of the dorsal roots at the same segmental level. In control rats, cells encountered in the dorsal horn were classified according to their peripheral field as tactile specific, convergent tactile and nociceptive, nociceptive, or movement driven. In 20 control animals, only 20% of the 140 cells with a peripheral field were spontaneously active. After sciatic nerve transection made on the side of recording a few days previously (18 rats), all of the 141 cells studied showed spontaneous activity, only 69 of them having a peripheral field. After dorsal root transections a few days previously (nine rats), 25 spontaneously active cells were found in the dorsal horn ipsilateral to the section, none with a peripheral field. Spontaneous activities of cells without a peripheral field were separated into three types as a function of bursting pattern, which were similar following both types of transection. The spontaneous activity shown by dorsal horn cells without peripheral fields following dorsal root transection precludes attribution of spontaneous spiking in such cells to abnormal input from the periphery, and shows that abnormal activity can develop in deafferented dorsal horn cells themselves. A possible role played by this spontaneous activity in deafferentation pain is considered.