The amount of colonic substance P and substance P-receptors is increased in ulcerative colitis, which may denote that substance-P is involved as a neurogenic mediator in the inflammatory process of ulcerative colitis. We studied the anatomical distribution of elevated colonic substance P in ulcerative colitis and assessed morphometrically whether the changes in substance P correlate with alterations in colonic innervation. Full-thickness specimens of colonic wall were obtained from normal human colons (N = 9) and the most and least affected regions of ulcerative colitis colons (N = 10) and immunostained for substance P. Substance P immunoreactivity index was calculated by multiplying each intensity value by the number of pixels exhibiting this intensity value. The numbers of substance P-immunoreactive nerve fibers in the lamina propria were markedly increased, and their fluorescence intensity was enhanced in ulcerative colitis. The longitudinal muscle layer contained substance P-immunoreactive nerve fibers in ulcerative colitis, but not in the controls. The substance P-immunoreactive index (= number x intensity of nerve fibers) was 3.42 +/- 1.49 in controls, 21.19 +/- 7.79 in mild ulcerative colitis regions (P < 0.05), and 29.68 +/- 9.81 in severe ulcerative colitis regions (P < 0.01). Increase in the number of substance P nerve fibers is in accordance with the hypothesis that substance P contributes to neurogenic mediation of inflammation in ulcerative colitis.