Lamina I of the spinal cord contains many projection neurons: the majority of these are activated by noxious stimulation, although some respond to other stimuli, such as innocuous cooling. In the rat, approximately 80% of lamina I projection neurons express the neurokinin 1 (NK1) receptor, on which substance P acts. Lamina I neurons can be classified into three main morphological classes: pyramidal, fusiform and multipolar cells. It has been reported that in the cat, pyramidal cells respond to innocuous cooling, and whilst both fusiform and multipolar cells are activated by noxious mechanical and heat stimuli, only cells in the latter group respond to noxious cold [Nat Neurosci 1 (1998) 218]. However, we have previously shown that NK1 receptor-immunoreactive projection neurons belonging to each morphological class are equally likely to up-regulate the transcription factor Fos after noxious chemical stimulation, and that the density of innervation by substance P-containing (nociceptive) afferents is similar for cells of each type [J Neurosci 22 (2002) 4103]. This suggests that the morphological-physiological correlation that has been reported in the cat may not apply in the rat. We have tested this further by examining Fos expression in lamina I spinoparabrachial neurons in the rat after application of noxious heat or noxious cold stimuli under general anesthesia. Following noxious heat, 57-69% of NK1 receptor-immunoreactive spinoparabrachial neurons expressed Fos, and the proportion did not differ significantly between morphological groups. However, after noxious cold stimulation Fos was present in 63% of multipolar neurons, but only 19-26% of fusiform or pyramidal cells. These results suggest that although most NK1 receptor-expressing spinoparabrachial neurons are activated by noxious stimuli, responsiveness to noxious cold is significantly more common in those of the multipolar type. There therefore appears to be a correlation between morphology and function for lamina I projection neurons in the rat.