CNS correlates of acute prolonged pain, and the effects of partial blockade of the central β-endorphin system, were investigated by the quantitative 2-deoxyglucose technique in unanaesthetized, freely moving rats. Experiments were performed during the second, tonic phase of the behavioural response to a prolonged chemical noxious stimulus (s.c. injection of dilute formalin into a forepaw), or after minor tissue injury (s.c. saline injection). During formalin-induced pain, local glucose utilization rates in the CNS were bilaterally increased in the grey matter of the cervical spinal cord, in spinal white matter tracts and in several supraspinal structures, including portions of the medullary reticular formation, locus coeruleus, lateral parabrachial region, anterior pretectal nucleus, the medial, lateral and posterior thalamic regions, basal ganglia, and the parietal, cingulate, frontal, insular and orbital cortical areas. Pretreatment with anti-β-endorphin antibodies, injected i.c.v., led to increased metabolism in the tegmental nuclei, locus coeruleus, hypothalamic and thalamic structures, putamen, nucleus accumbens, diagonal band nuclei and dentate gyrus, and in portions of the parietal, cingulate, insular, frontal and orbital cortex. In formalin-injected rats, pretreated with anti-β-endorphin, behavioural changes indicative of hyperalgesia (increased licking response) were found, which were paralleled by a significant enhancement of functional activity in the anterior pretectal nucleus and in thalamo-cortical systems. A positive correlation was found between the duration of the licking response and metabolic activity of several forebrain regions. These results provide a map of the CNS pattern of metabolic activity during tonic somatic pain, and demonstrate a modulatory role for β-endorphin in central networks that process somatosensory inputs.