Peripheral cannabinoid 2 receptors (CB2 receptors) modulate immune responses and attenuate nociceptive behaviour in models of acute and persistent pain. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether peripheral CB2 receptors modulate spinal processing of innocuous and noxious responses and to determine whether there are altered roles of CB2 receptors in models of persistent pain. Effects of local administration of the CB2 receptor agonist JWH-133 (5 and 15 microg/50 microL) on mechanically evoked responses of spinal wide dynamic range (WDR) neurons in noninflamed rats, rats with carrageenan-induced hindpaw inflammation, sham operated rats and spinal nerve-ligated (SNL) rats were determined in anaesthetized rats in vivo. Mechanical stimulation (von Frey filaments, 6-80 g) of the peripheral receptive field evoked firing of WDR neurons. Mechanically evoked responses of WDR neurons were similar in noninflamed, carrageenan-inflamed, sham-operated and SNL rats. Intraplantar injection of JWH-133 (15 microg), but not vehicle, significantly (P < 0.05) inhibited innocuous and noxious mechanically evoked responses of WDR neurons in all four groups of rats. In many cases the selective CB2 receptor antagonist, SR144528 (10 microg/50 microL), attenuated the inhibitory effects of JWH-133 (15 microg) on mechanically evoked WDR neuronal responses. The CB1 receptor antagonist, SR141716A, did not attenuate the inhibitory effects of JWH-133 on these responses. Intraplantar preadministration of JWH-133 also inhibited (P < 0.05) carrageenan-induced expansion of peripheral receptive fields of WDR dorsal horn neurons. This study demonstrates that activation of peripheral CB2 receptors attenuates both innocuous- and noxious-evoked responses of WDR neurons in models of acute, inflammatory and neuropathic pain.