Spinal lamina I neurons expressing the substance P receptor (SPR) have been shown to play a role in the transmission of somatic inflammatory and neuropathic pain. To evaluate their involvement in visceral nociception in both the noninflamed and inflamed colon, we examined the expression and ligand-induced internalization of the SPR in the rat spinal cord after distention of the noninflamed colon and in rats with inflammation induced by intracolonic instillation of zymosan (3 hours). In the noninflamed animal, acute noxious but not non-noxious colorectal distention induced SPR internalization in lamina I neurons at the thoracolumbar (T13) and lumbosacral (S1) spinal levels, whereas SPR internalization was not detected in lamina I neurons at spinal lumbar segment L4. Although zymosan-induced colorectal inflammation alone did not induce SPR internalization in lamina I neurons, there was an increased number of SPR-expressing lamina I neurons showing SPR internalization in segments T12 through S2 of the spinal cord after colorectal distention. These results show that acute noxious visceral stimuli induce activation of spinal lamina I neurons expressing the SPR and, that after visceral inflammation, there is a marked increase in both the number and rostrocaudal extent of lamina I SPR neurons activated in response to both normally non-noxious and noxious distention of the colon.