The formalin test: an evaluation of the method

Pain. 1992 Oct;51(1):5-17. doi: 10.1016/0304-3959(92)90003-T.


The formalin test for nociception, which is predominantly used with rats and mice, involves moderate, continuous pain generated by injured tissue. In this way it differs from most traditional tests of nociception which rely upon brief stimuli of threshold intensity. In this article we describe the main features of the formalin test, including the characteristics of the stimulus and how changes in nociceptive behaviour may be measured and interpreted. The response to formalin shows an early and a late phase. The early phase seems to be caused predominantly by C-fibre activation due to the peripheral stimulus, while the late phase appears to be dependent on the combination of an inflammatory reaction in the peripheral tissue and functional changes in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord. These functional changes seem to be initiated by the C-fibre barrage during the early phase. In mice, the behavioural response in the late phase depends on the ambient temperature. We argue that the peripheral tissue temperature as well as other factors influencing the peripheral inflammation may affect the response, possibly confounding the results obtained with the test. Furthermore, we discuss the methods of recording the response and the value of observing more than one aspect of behaviour. Scoring of several behavioural variables provides a means of assessing motor or sensorimotor function as possible causes for changes in behaviour. In conclusion, the formalin test is a valuable addition to the battery of methods available to study nociception.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Formaldehyde*
  • Pain / chemically induced*
  • Pain / physiopathology*


  • Formaldehyde