Previous studies have demonstrated that the metabotropic glutamate receptor subtype 5 (mGlu5 receptor) is expressed in the cell bodies of rat primary afferent neurones. We have further investigated the function and expression of mGlu5 receptors in primary afferent neurones, and their role in inflammatory nociception. Freund's complete adjuvant-induced inflammatory hyperalgesia of the rat hind paw was significantly reduced by intraplantar, but not by intracerebroventricular or intrathecal microinjection of the selective mGlu5 receptor antagonist, 2-methyl-6-(phenylethynyl)-pyridine (MPEP). Pharmacological comparison in vivo of the nociceptive effects of glutamate, and ionotropic and metabotropic glutamate (mGlu) receptor agonists applied to the rat hind paw, indicated that group I mGlu receptor agonists induce a dose-dependent decrease in paw withdrawal threshold (mechanical hyperalgesia). Group I mGlu agonist-induced hyperalgesia was inhibited by co-microinjection of MPEP, but not by the mGlu1 receptor antagonist (S)-4-carboxy-phenylglycine (4-CPG). Carrageenan-induced inflammatory hyperalgesia was inhibited by pre-treatment of the inflamed hind paw with MPEP, but not following MPEP injection into the contralateral hind paw. Dorsal horn neurones receiving peripheral nociceptive and non-nociceptive afferent input were recorded in anaesthetized rats following microinjection of CHPG into their peripheral receptive fields. CHPG significantly increased the frequency and duration of firing of dorsal horn wide dynamic range (WDR) neurones and this activity was prevented by co-administration of CHPG and MPEP into their receptive fields. Immunohistochemical experiments revealed the co-expression of mGlu5 receptor protein and betaIII tubulin in skin from naive rats, indicating the constitutive expression of mGlu5 receptors on peripheral neurones. Double-labelling of adult rat DRG cells with mGlu5 receptor and vanilloid receptor subtype 1 antisera also supports the expression of mGlu5 receptors on peripheral nociceptive afferents. These results suggest that mGlu5 receptors expressed on the peripheral terminals of sensory neurones are involved in nociceptive processes and contribute to the hyperalgesia associated with inflammation.