In order to determine whether glutamate is enriched in neurotensin- containing axons in the superficial dorsal horn of the rat spinal cord, we have carried out preembedding immunocytochemistry with an antiserum to neurotensin and then used a postembedding immunogold method with antiserum to glutamate. The immunogold label (corresponding to glutamate-like immunoreactivity) over 40 neurotensin-immunoreactive boutons in laminae I and II of the lumbar dorsal horn was compared with that over nearby axons that formed asymmetrical or symmetrical synapses. In addition, for 20 of these boutons, the labeling was compared with that over mossy and parallel fiber terminals (both of which are thought to use glutamate as a transmitter) from sections of cerebellum that had been processed together with those of spinal cord. Glutamate-like immunoreactivity was consistently high over neurotensin- immunoreactive boutons relative to most surrounding profiles. Immunostaining over these boutons was slightly (11%) lower than that over matched terminals that formed asymmetrical synapses, but considerably higher than that over the terminals that formed symmetrical synapses. The level of glutamate immunoreactivity in neurotensin-immunoreactive boutons in dorsal horn was similar to that in cerebellar parallel fiber terminals, but significantly lower than that in mossy fiber terminals. These results suggest that glutamate is a transmitter used by neurotensin-immunoreactive axons in the dorsal horn, and since these axons are thought to be largely or entirely derived from neurotensin-containing neurons in laminae I-III, they provide immunocytochemical evidence for a population of excitatory glutamatergic neurons in this region.