In the present work, we recorded the neuronal properties of the ventromedial medulla, a brainstem structure involved in the descending spinal control systems related to nociception, in awake, freely moving healthy and polyarthritic rats. These animals were rendered polyarthritic with a subcutaneous administration of the Freund's adjuvant into the tail, and studied at 20 and 30 days post-inoculation. At the ventromedial medulla level, the single-unit activities were recorded by means of a chronically implanted device supporting a 50 microns platinum-iridium wire as the recording electrode. With a total of 308 recorded neurons, we determined that in both healthy rats, i.e. animals having received mineral oil only and arthritic rats, there were ventromedial medulla units with common physiological properties, but also changes. In agreement with the results from anesthetized arthritic rats at spinal and thalamic levels, the systematic analysis of the responses to light touch and mechanical shock revealed that the 'multimodal, multireceptive' units, excited by innocuous and noxious stimuli, were much more responsive to both modalities in arthritic rats. Approximately 7% of these neurons displayed a 'paroxysmal' spontaneous activity, also reported in the literature for other structures. In addition, we recorded a significant number of neurons inhibited or excited-inhibited by innocuous and noxious cutaneous stimulations, and a few with a regular spontaneous activity, also responding, which has never been the case in healthy rats. We conclude that a peripheral chronic inflammation, such as arthritis, can produce changes of the ventromedial medulla neuronal properties, as compared to healthy animals. Consequently, in addition to its classical role in the spinal control of nociception, the ventromedial medulla is able to develop some form of plasticity in the case of persistent pain of peripheral origin.