The contribution of intracellular calcium to central sensitization and persistent nociception in response to tissue injury in rats was examined following the subcutaneous injection of formalin into the hindpaw. Formalin injury-induced nociceptive behaviors were enhanced by intrathecal pretreatment with the calcium ionophore A23187 or the calcium channel agonist Bay-K8644. Conversely, formalin nociceptive responses were reduced by intrathecal pretreatment with the calcium chelator Quin 2 or the calcium channel antagonists verapamil and nifedipine. Each of these agents affected the tonic, but not the acute, phase of the formalin response. The enhancement in formalin nociceptive behavior in rats treated with L-aspartate or L-glutamate was reversed by combined pretreatment with the noncompetitive NMDA antagonist MK- 801, but not by nifedipine or the non-NMDA excitatory amino acid antagonist 6-cyano-7-dinitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione. In rats not treated with excitatory amino acids, the analgesic effect of MK-801 was also significantly greater than that produced by nifedipine. Furthermore, combining nifedipine with MK-801 did not produce a significantly greater analgesic effect than MK-801 alone. The results suggest that central sensitization and persistent nociception following formalin- induced tissue injury are dependent on the influx of calcium through predominantly NMDA receptor-operated (and to a lesser extent voltage- gated) calcium channels.