Muscle pain generally has an inhibitory effect on voluntary orofacial motor function. However, it is not known whether muscle pain causes direct or indirect changes in motoneuron excitability. In this study a monopolar needle stimulation technique was used to evoke the direct motor response (M-response) in the left masseter muscle and the heteronymous H-reflex in the left temporalis muscle as an indirect measure of motoneuron excitability. Series of 20 repeated electrical stimuli were delivered at 50% of maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) before, during, and after periods with experimental jaw-muscle pain in 11 healthy subjects. Pain was induced by standardized infusion of hypertonic (5%) saline into the mid-portion of the right masseter muscle. The mean pain intensity rating on a 100-mm visual analog scale was 42+/-5 mm. The short-latency responses (less than 6 ms) could be evoked in all subjects. Analysis of the latency and amplitude of the temporal H-reflex indicated no significant effect of jaw-muscle pain. The amplitude of the masseteric M-response was significantly smaller in the postpain condition than in the pain conditions (ANOVA, P=0.018), but no differences were found between the prepain and postpain conditions. In nine subjects, poststimulus periods (mean offset latency, 69.6+/-8.6 ms) with significantly (more than 50%) suppressed EMG activity were detected in the ipsilateral masseter muscle following the M-response (mean offset latency, 5.5+/-0.2 ms). These reflex responses did not show a systematic change during the pain conditions. In conclusion, acute contralateral jaw-muscle pain does not seem to modulate the motoneuron excitability as measured by the heteronymous H-reflex.