It is known that the level of activity in nociceptive primary afferent nerve fibers increases in neuropathic conditions that produce pain, but changes in the temporal patterning of action potentials have not been analyzed in any detail. Because the patterning of action potentials in sensory nerve fibers might play a role in the development of pathological pain states, we studied patterning of mechanical stimulus-evoked action potential trains in nociceptive primary afferents in a rat model of vincristine-induced painful peripheral neuropathy. Systemic administration of vincristine (100 microg/kg) caused approximately half the C-fiber nociceptors to become markedly hyperresponsive to mechanical stimulation. Instantaneous frequency plots showed that vincristine induced an irregular pattern of action-potential firing in hyperresponsive C-fibers, characterized by interspersed occurrences of high- and low-frequency firing. This pattern was associated with an increase in the percentage of interspike intervals 100-199 ms in duration compared with that in C-fibers from control rats and vincristine-treated C-fibers that did not become hyperresponsive. Variability in the temporal pattern of action potential firing was quantified by determining the coefficient of variability (CV2) for adjacent interspike intervals. This analysis revealed that vincristine altered the pattern of action-potential timing, so that combinations of higher firing frequency and higher variability occurred that were not observed in control fibers. The abnormal temporal structure of nociceptor responses induced by vincristine in some C-fiber nociceptors could contribute to the pathogenesis of chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain, perhaps by inducing activity-dependent post-synaptic effects in sensory pathways.