The spinal dorsal horn receives a dense innervation of noradrenaline-containing fibers that originate from pontine neurons in the A5, locus coeruleus (LC), and A7 cell groups. These pontospinal neurons are believed to constitute a component of the endogenous analgesic system. We used an adenoviral vector with a catecholaminergic-selective promoter (AVV-PRS) to retrogradely label the noradrenergic neurons projecting to the lumbar (L4-L5) dorsal horn with enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) or monomeric red fluorescent protein (mRFP). Retrogradely labeled neurons (145 +/- 12, n = 14) were found in A5-12%, LC-80% and A7-8% after injection of AVV-PRS-EGFP to the dorsal horn of L4-L5. These neurons were immunopositive for dopamine beta-hydroxylase, indicating that they were catecholaminergic. Retrograde labeling was optimal 7 days after injection, persisted for over 4 weeks, and was dependent on viral vector titer. The spinal topography of the noradrenergic projection was examined using EGFP- and mRFP-expressing adenoviral vectors. Pontospinal neurons provide bilateral innervation of the cord and there was little overlap in the distribution of neurons projecting to the cervical and lumbar regions. The axonal arbor of the pontospinal neurons was visualized with GFP immunocytochemistry to show projections to the inferior olive, cerebellum, thalamus, and cortex but not to the hippocampus or caudate putamen. Formalin testing evoked c-fos expression in these pontospinal neurons, suggesting that they were nociresponsive (A5-21%, LC-16%, and A7-26%, n = 8). Thus, we have developed a viral vector-based strategy to selectively, retrogradely target the pontospinal noradrenergic neurons that are likely to be involved in the descending control of nociception.