Lamina I spinothalamic tract (STT) neurons are an integral component of the central representation of pain and temperature and thus their sensitivity to various analgesics needs to be examined. In the present study, the effects of successive, cumulative doses (0.125-2.0 mg/kg) of intravenous morphine sulfate on the quantitative stimulus-response properties of nociceptive lamina I STT cells have been tested in the intact, barbiturate-anesthetized cat. Both nociceptive-specific (n = 7) and multireceptive (heat, pinch and cold sensitive; n = 7) lamina I STT cells were inhibited in a dose-dependent manner. Parallel dose-dependent effects on responses to noxious heat and pinch were generally observed that reduced ongoing discharge levels and the slopes of the stimulus-response functions. However, non-STT lamina I cells (n = 5) differed significantly; the responses of one multireceptive (heat, pinch and cold-sensitive) cell and the responses to pinch of 3 of 4 wide dynamic range cells were not inhibited. In addition, two-thirds of the nociceptive lamina I STT cells showed enhanced responses at the lowest dose of morphine (0.125 mg/kg). These results contrast with the varied effects of morphine reported for superficial dorsal horn cells with uncharacterized projections and they support the role of lamina I STT cells in pain. Furthermore, these observations are consistent with previous findings indicating that lamina I STT neurons are a distinct subpopulation of lamina I cells. These results support previous evidence that opiatergic modulation of sensory activity in lamina I is functionally organized.