This study was undertaken to analyze the involvement of periaqueductal gray (PAG) cannabinoid or group I metabotropic glutamate receptors in the formalin-induced changes on the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) ON- and OFF-cells activities. S.c. injection of formalin into the hind paw produced a transient decrease (4-6 min) followed by a longer increase (25-35 min) in tail flick latencies. Formalin also increased basal activity in RVM ON-cells (42+/-7%) and decreased it in OFF-cells (35+/-4%). Intra-PAG microinjection of (R)-(+)-[2,3-dihydro-5-methyl-3-(4-morpholinylmethyl) pyrrolo[1,2,3-de]-1,4-benzoxazin-6-yl]-1-naphthalenylmethanone mesylate (WIN 55,212-2) (2 nmol/rat), a cannabinoid receptor agonist, prevented the formalin-induced changes in RVM cell activities. Higher dosages of WIN 55,212-2 (4-8 nmol/rat) increased the tail flick latencies, delayed the tail flick-related onset to ON-cell burst, and decreased the duration of OFF-cell pause. Furthermore, WIN 55,212-2 at a dosage of 8 nmol/rat decreased RVM ON-cell (57+/-7%) and increased OFF-cell ongoing activities (26+/-4%). These effects were prevented by N-piperidino-5-(4-chlorophenyl)-1-(2,4dichlorophenyl)-4-methyl-3-pyrazolecarboxamide SR141716A, (1 pmol/rat), a CB1 cannabinoid receptor antagonist, or by 2-methyl-6-(phenylethynyl)pyridine (MPEP 20 nmol/rat), a selective mGlu5 glutamate receptor antagonist. T7-(hydroxyimino) cyclopropa[b]chromen-1alpha-carboxylate ethyl ester (CPCOOE/50 nmol/rat) and (S)-(+)-alpha-amino-4-carboxy-2-methylbenzeneacetic acid (LY367385, 20 nmol/rat), selective mGlu1 glutamate receptor antagonists, were ineffective in preventing the WIN-induced effects. This study suggests that s.c. injection of formalin modifies RVM neuronal activities and this effect is prevented by PAG cannabinoid receptor stimulation. Moreover, the physiological stimulation of PAG mGlu5, but not mGlu1 glutamate receptors, seems to be required for the cannabinoid-mediated effect.