Glutamate and several neuropeptides are synthesized and released by subpopulations of primary afferent neurons. These sensory neurons play a role in regulating the inflammatory and immune responses in peripheral tissues. Using quantitative receptor autoradiography we have explored what changes occur in the location and concentration of receptor binding sites for sensory neurotransmitters in the colon in two human inflammatory diseases, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. The sensory neurotransmitter receptors examined included bombesin, calcitonin gene related peptide-alpha, cholecystokinin, galanin, glutamate, somatostatin, neurokinin A (substance K), substance P, and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide. Of the nine receptor binding sites examined only substance P binding sites associated with arterioles, venules and lymph nodules were dramatically up-regulated in the inflamed tissue. These data suggest that substance P is involved in regulating the inflammatory and immune responses in human inflammatory diseases and indicate a specificity of efferent action for each sensory neurotransmitter in peripheral tissues.