The sensory neuropeptides, substance P and calcitonin gene-related peptide, have been implicated in inflammatory reactions in several tissues. An immune-complex model of colitis was used in rabbits to determine the colonic content (nmol/g protein) of immunoreactive substance P and calcitonin gene-related peptide at various times after induction of inflammation to assess changes in these neuropeptides during the inflammatory response. Calcitonin gene-related peptide content was decreased by 66% 4 hours after induction of inflammation and reached a maximum of 80% at 48 hours. The substance P content was decreased at 8 hours, with a maximum decrease of 64% at 48 hours. Substance P decrease was detected in the muscle layer. The amounts of substance P in the mucosal/submucosal layer extracts were too low to allow accurate measurements. Calcitonin gene-related peptide decreased both in the muscle and the mucosal-submucosal layers. Immunohistochemical analysis showed that calcitonin gene-related peptide and substance P innervation patterns were comparable in normal and inflamed colon, even though there appeared to be a decrease in density and intensity of the staining, particularly for calcitonin gene-related peptide at 48 hours. The early decrease of calcitonin gene-related peptide and substance P during the time course of colitis might be due to release from nerve terminals of the gut during the inflammatory response. The profound changes in colonic calcitonin gene-related peptide and substance P content during colitis may have important implications during inflammation and subsequent tissue repair and may also lead to disturbances in gut motility.