Sensitization to the behavioral effects produced by repeated injections of kainic acid (KA) into the mouse spinal cord area has been previously shown to be abolished by pretreatment with capsaicin, a neurotoxin of substance P (SP)-containing primary afferent C-fibers. While SP has a variety of well characterized biological actions that are mediated by interactions of its COOH terminus with neurokinin receptors, more recently we have characterized an amino-terminally directed SP binding site. The present studies were initiated to determine whether behavioral sensitization to repeated injections of intrathecally administered KA is mediated by the COOH or NH2 terminal of SP. In the present studies, pretreatment with SP(1-7), an NH2-terminal fragment of SP, but not SP(5-11), a COOH-terminal fragment, potentiated KA-induced behavioral activity in mice. Pretreatment with [D-Pro2,D-Phe7]SP(1-7), an inhibitor of SP NH2-terminal binding, blocked the potentiative effect of SP(1-7) as well as the sensitization to repeated injections of KA. In contrast, [D-Pro2,D-Trp7,9]SP, a neurokinin antagonist, had little effect on behavioral sensitization to KA. The present study suggests that SP has an important modulatory role on excitatory amino acid activity in the spinal cord that is mediated by an action of the NH2 terminal of SP at a non-neurokinin receptor.