Temporal filtering of afferent information is an intrinsic component of the processing of numerous types of sensory information. To date, no temporal filtering mechanism has been identified for nociceptive information. The phenomenon of offset analgesia, the disproportionately large decrease in perceived pain following slight decreases in noxious thermal intensity, however, suggests the existence of such a mechanism. To test the hypothesis that a temporal filtering mechanism is engaged during noxious stimulus offset, subjects rated heat pain intensity while stimulus fall rates were varied from -0.5 to -5.0 degrees C/s. In the absence of a temporal filtering mechanism, pain intensity would be expected to decrease in direct proportion to the stimulus fall rate. However, psychophysical fall rates were considerably faster than stimulus fall rates, such that subjects reported no pain while stimulus temperatures were clearly within the noxious range (47.2 degrees C). In addition, paired noxious stimuli were presented simultaneously to determine if offset analgesia evoked by one stimulus could inhibit pain arising from a separate population of primary afferent neurons. Pain ratings were significantly lower than those reported from two constant 49 degrees C stimuli when offset analgesia was induced proximal to, but not distal to, a second noxious stimulus. These asymmetric spatial interactions are not readily explained by peripheral mechanisms. Taken together, these findings indicate that offset analgesia is mediated in part by central mechanisms and reflect a temporal filtering of the sensory information that enhances the contrast of dynamic decreases in noxious stimulus intensity.