The contribution of estrogen and progesterone to colorectal hyperalgesia was examined in female rats. The electromyogram recorded from the abdominal wall (visceromotor response, vmr) and the discharge of lumbosacral dorsal horn neurons to colorectal distention (CRD) were measured in intact female, ovariectomized (OVx) and estradiol replaced OVx (E2; 50mug, 48h) rats with and without colonic inflammation. Colorectal hyperalgesia was transient in intact rats, but persisted at least 4h in E2 and OVx rats. The magnitude of hyperalgesia in E2 rats was greater than OVx which was greater than intact rats. Dorsal horn neurons that responded to CRD with an Abrupt (on and off with stimulus) excitatory discharge showed similar sensitivity to estradiol as the vmr following colonic inflammation. In contrast, inflammation did not increase the magnitude of response of excitatory neurons with sustained afterdischarges in any of the treatment groups. Intact female rats have a comparable plasma estrogen concentration to E2 rats, suggesting the difference in responses may have been due to antinociceptive effects of progesterone. This was tested by administering E2+/- progesterone (1mg) and measuring the vmr. Progesterone reduced the facilitation of the vmr produced by E2 before and following colonic inflammation. The present study suggests that estrogen replacement enhances visceral signal processing following colonic inflammation. Furthermore, progesterone may counteract the effects of estrogen on colorectal sensitivity.