Neuropathic pain or persistent dysesthesias may be initiated by mechanical, chemical, or ischemic damage to peripheral sensory nerves. In animal models of neuropathic pain, transection or constrictive injury to peripheral nerves produces ectopic discharges originating at both injury sites and related dorsal root ganglia (DRG), and, consequently, hyperexcitability in associated dorsal horn (DH) neurons of the spinal cord. Since ectopic discharges are inhibited by agents that block voltage-sensitive Na+ channels, it has been postulated that accumulation of Na+ channels in the membrane at nerve injury sites may contribute to, or be responsible for, the development of ectopic neuronal activity (ENA). The present study therefore, tested the sensitivity of ENA to intravenously administered tetrodotoxin (TTX), an extremely potent and selective Na+ channel blocker. Comparative effects of TTX on cardiac parameters such as heart rate (HR) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) were also studied. Experiments were performed on adult male Sprague-Dawley rats in which the common sciatic nerve had been transected 4-10 days earlier. Neuromal activity was measured in fine bundles of microfilaments teased from sciatic nerves, and extracellular microelectrode recordings were made from DRG and DH neurons. Cardiovascular parameters were recorded simultaneously. Intravenously administered TTX induced dose-dependent inhibition of ENA, with that originating from neuromas being the most sensitive; ED50 values (expressed as microg/kg, with 95% confidence limits) for neuromal, DRG and DH neuron activity were: 0.8 (0.6-1.2), 4.3 (2.2-8.4) and 36.2 (16.1-81.3), respectively. Inhibition of ENA in neuromas and DRG did not recover within 10 min after 100 or 300 microg/kg TTX. By comparison, the ED50 value for the initial decrease of HR was 17.9 (15.0-21.5) microg/kg, and partial recovery occurred within approximately 3 min. These data support the hypothesis that Na+ channel accumulation contributes to the generation of ectopic discharges in neuromas and DRG, and suggest that TTX-sensitive Na+ channels located at the nerve injury site and DRG play an important role in the genesis of neuropathic pain.