The finding that certain cells of the substantia gelatinosa of the rat spinal cord contain both substance P (SP)- and enkephalin (ENK)-like immunoreactive material offers new insights into the mechanisms of action of these peptides in the processing of nociceptive sensory information. The simultaneous detection of these immunoreactivities was obtained in the superficial dorsal horn of the rat spinal cord at the ultrastructural level using monoclonal antibodies. An internally radiolabeled monoclonal antibody (against SP or ENK) was used to recognize one antigenic site, while the other antigenic site was identified by either a bispecific monoclonal antibody (for SP) or a monoclonal antibody (for ENK). The bispecific anti-SP antibody recognized HRP, whereas a secondary bispecific antibody recognized both the IgG of the anti-ENK monoclonal antibody and HRP. In laminae I-III, SP-like immunoreactivity (SP-LI) and ENK-like immunoreactivity (ENK-LI) were colocalized in a significant number of axonal varicosities, which contained round or pleomorphic synaptic vesicles. Such double-labeled varicosities, however, were not found to be components of synaptic glomeruli. Most of the immunostained boutons of lamina I were SP-like immunoreactive only. In rats pretreated with colchicine, SP-LI and ENK- LI were colocalized in small perikarya of lamina II and in some lamina I cells. These findings indicate that SP and ENK occur in a significant population of interneurons of the superficial dorsal horn. It is suggested that some of these neurons may correspond to stalked cells and release one or the other substance depending on physiological conditions.