We have tested the effects of cutaneous application of noradrenaline in 35 patients presenting with neuropathic pain. Depending on the outcome of sympatholytic interventions the patients were considered to have sympathetically maintained pain (SMP; n = 25) or sympathetically independent pain (SIP; n = 10). Iontophoretic application or cutaneous injection of noradrenaline into symptomatic skin aggravated pain and mechanical or thermal hyperalgesia in 7/25 SMP patients. Results from differential nerve blocks suggested that noradrenaline-induced ongoing pain and heat hyperalgesia were signalled by unmyelinated afferents, while touch-evoked pain and cold hyperalgesia were signalled by myelinated afferents. In none of the remaining 18/25 SMP patients, 10 SIP patients or 18 normal subjects did application of noradrenaline result in any appreciable increase of pain. A follow-up of 12 patients (initially 9 SMP, 3 SIP) after 12-16 years showed that one individual (previously SMP) was healthy, while 3 patients still suffered from SMP and 8 from SIP. Of the 5 SMP patients who had noradrenaline-induced pain at the initial examination, only 1 SMP patient still responded to noradrenaline with pain and hyperalgesia. Three other patients had changed to SIP and 1 individual was healthy. None of these 4 and none of the 7 initially noradrenaline-unresponsive patients experienced pain to the noradrenaline challenge at follow-up. Thus, cutaneous noradrenaline application can aggravate the pain in some, but not all SMP patients. THe abnormal noradrenaline reaction can change over time as can the pain relieving effects of sympatholytic therapy.