Evidence indicates that excitatory amino acids (EAAs) like glutamate and aspartate are important in the processing of nociceptive information in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord. Recently, the role of particular EAA receptors in pain transmission and facilitated pain states has been examined utilizing spinal administration of specific receptor antagonists. Most investigators have studied the involvement of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) EAA receptors in hyperalgesia and nociception; less is known about the importance of non-NMDA EAA receptors in animal models of persistent pain. To study the role of spinal non-NMDA EAA receptors in pain behaviors caused by an incision, we examined the effect of i.t. administered non-NMDA EAA receptor antagonists in a rat model of postoperative pain. Rats with i.t. catheters were anesthetized and underwent a plantar incision. Withdrawal threshold to punctate stimulation applied adjacent to the wound using von Frey filaments, response frequency to application of a non-punctate stimulus applied directly to the wound and non-evoked pain behaviors were measured before and after administration of i.t. 1,2,3,4-tetrahydro-6-nitro-2,3-dioxo[f]quinoxaline-7-sulfonamide (NBQX), 6,7-dinitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione (DNQX), or vehicle. A separate group of animals were also tested for motor impairment caused by these drugs. In the vehicle-treated group, the median withdrawal threshold for punctate hyperalgesia decreased from 522 mN before surgery to 39 mN 2 h later; hyperalgesia was persistent. Intrathecal administration of 5 or 10 nmol of NBQX returned the withdrawal threshold toward preincision values; the median withdrawal thresholds were 158 and 360 mN, respectively. Intrathecal administration of 10 nmol of DNQX similarly increased the withdrawal threshold after incision. In separate groups of animals, i.t. administration of 5 or 10 nmol of NBQX decreased the response frequency to a non-punctate stimulus applied directly to the incision from 100+/-0% 2 h after surgery to 22+/-11 and 0+/-0% 30 min after drug injection, respectively. Similar results were observed with i.t. administration of 10 nmol of DNQX. Intrathecal NBQX also inhibited non-evoked pain behavior. In conclusion, non-NMDA receptor antagonists produced a marked decrease in pain behaviors in this model of postoperative pain. Thus, non-NMDA receptors are important for the maintenance of short-term pain behaviors caused by an incision and drugs blocking these receptors may be useful for the treatment of postoperative pain in patients.