In previous studies we reported that although morphine dose dependently inhibits noxious stimulus-evoked expression of the c-fos proto-oncogene in the rat spinal cord, morphine was without effect in certain populations of presumed nociresponsive neurons, even under conditions of complete behavioral analgesia. To determine whether the neurons that continue to express the c-fos gene include projection neurons, we evaluated the effect of morphine on noxious stimulus-evoked c-fos expression in spinoparabrachial neurons retrogradely labeled with Fluoro-gold. In the formalin test, we found that morphine analgesia was associated with a significant reduction in the number of Fos-like- immunoreactive spinoparabrachial projection neurons in the lateral reticulated area of the neck of the dorsal horn. Morphine, however, did not reduce the number of Fos-like-immunoreactive spinoparabrachial projection neurons either in the superficial dorsal horn or in the area around the central canal. These results indicate that under conditions of morphine analgesia two distinct populations of spinoparabrachial neurons can be recognized on the basis of their expression of the c-fos gene in response to noxious stimulation. Since the expression of the c- fos gene has been correlated with neuronal activity, these data suggest that activity, and central transmission of nociceptive information, persists in certain nociresponsive projection neurons during morphine analgesia. Alternatively, if activity has, in fact, been blocked in these neurons, our results indicate that injury can produce significant molecular changes in neurons even though the neuronal activity and pain associated with the injury is blocked by morphine.