GABA agonists and antagonists were injected intrathecally at the spinal cord, to determine their effect on nociceptive thresholds. Tactile stimulation, applied against the flank by a medium diameter von Frey fiber (5.5 g force), elicited distress vocalizations after, but not before injection of the GABA antagonists, bicuculline MI or picrotoxin (0.25 and 1 microgram dosages). Vocalization threshold to tail shock was significantly reduced by bicuculline MI or picrotoxin. Tail flick withdrawal latency from radiant heat was not altered by GABA antagonists. The GABA agonist, muscimol, significantly elevated vocalization threshold to tail shock at a 5 micrograms dose. At a lower dose level (1 microgram), muscimol significantly reduced vocalization threshold to tail shock. Tail flick latency was significantly prolonged by the 5 micrograms dose of muscimol; however, flaccid paralysis of the hind limbs was also evident. Nociceptive thresholds were not altered by GABA or saline injection. These findings indicate that GABAergic activity contributes to the tonic modulation of nociception at the spinal cord.