Abstract We have investigated the effects of intrathecal (i.t.) N- methyl- d-aspartate (NMDA) and an NMDA antagonist d-2-amino-5-phosphonovalerate (APV) on spontaneous and evoked activity in rat dorsal horn convergent neurones. Extracellular recordings were made from 54 convergent neurones located in both the superficial and deep dorsal horn. NMDA induced a dose-dependent increase in the spontaneous firing rate of convergent neurones, with 1 μM and 1 mM NMDA producing firing rates significantly greater than i.t. saline. In addition, NMDA induced hyperexcitability to subsequent noxious mechanical stimuli at 1 μM and 1 mM, and to innocuous stimuli at 1 mM. The NMDA-induced spontaneous hyperexcitability was reversed by pretreatment with 1 μM APV i.t. Diffuse noxious inhibitory controls (DNIC) applied to areas of the body remote from the receptive field also inhibited the NMDA-induced effects. There was no difference between the responses of superficial and deep dorsal horn neurones, suggesting a uniform excitatory action of NMDA on convergent neurones. Our results support a role for the NMDA receptor in mediating a central component of hyperalgesia, at the level of the spinal cord dorsal horn.