In order to determine whether spinothalamic neurons in the lumbar spinal cord of the rat process neurokinin-1 (substance P) receptors, we injected cholera toxin B subunit into the thalamus and carried out dual-labelling immunocytochemistry to search for neurons that were immunoreactive with antibodies to cholera toxin and neurokinin-1 receptor. We examined 356 spinothalamic neurons in transverse sections and found that 35% of these were neurokinin-1 receptor-immunoreactive. Double-labelled cells made up the majority of the spinothalamic population in lamina I and the lateral spinal nucleus, and were also present in laminae III-V and the area around the central canal. On the side contralateral to the injection site, 77% of spinothalamic neurons in lamina I also showed neurokinin-1 receptor immunoreactivity, while 33% of those in laminae III-V and 14% of the ventromedial group possessed the receptor. Several of the double-labelled neurons with cell bodies in laminae III and IV had dendrites which could be followed dorsally into the superficial dorsal horn. These results indicate that substance P released from nociceptive primary afferents into the superficial dorsal horn is likely to act on spinothalamic tract neurons in lamina I, and also on those with cells bodies in laminae III-IV and long dorsal dendrites.