Using in situ hybridization with riboprobes the distribution of alpha(2A)-, alpha(2B)- and alpha(2C)-adrenoceptor mRNAs were studied in normal rat dorsal root ganglia and after unilateral peripheral nerve injury (total nerve transection) or inflammation. The most common adrenoceptor mRNA was of the alpha(2C) subtype (almost 80% of all neuron profiles) followed by the alpha(2A) subtype (almost 20%), whereas alpha(2B)-adrenoceptor mRNA was only found in small numbers of neuron profiles. The most dramatic effect of peripheral nerve injury was observed for the alpha(2A)-adrenoceptor mRNA, which increased to 45% of all neuron profiles. In contrast, alpha(2C) adrenoceptor mRNA showed a small decrease in this situation. Carrageenan-induced peripheral inflammation did not affect the percentage of alpha(2A)- or alpha(2C)-adrenoceptor mRNA-positive profiles. These findings suggest that, if any of the alpha(2) adrenoceptor, the alpha(2A) subtype represents the most likely candidate in DRG neurons to be involved in sympathetically maintained pain.