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Lamina II contains a large number of interneurons involved in modulation and transmission of somatosensory (including nociceptive) information. However, its neuronal circuitry is poorly understood due to the difficulty of identifying functional populations of interneurons. This information is important for understanding nociceptive processing and for identifying changes that underlie chronic pain. In this study, we compared morphology, neurotransmitter content, electrophysiological and pharmacological properties for 61 lamina II neurons recorded in slices from adult rat spinal cord. Morphology was related to transmitter content, since islet cells were GABAergic, while radial and most vertical cells were glutamatergic. However, there was considerable diversity among the remaining cells, some of which could not be classified morphologically. Transmitter phenotype was related to firing pattern, since most (18/22) excitatory cells, but few (2/23) inhibitory cells had delayed, gap or reluctant patterns, which are associated with A-type potassium (IA) currents. Somatostatin was identified in axons of 14/24 excitatory neurons. These had variable morphology, but most of those tested showed delayed-firing. Excitatory interneurons are therefore likely to contribute to pain states associated with synaptic plasticity involving IA currents. Although noradrenaline and serotonin evoked outward currents in both inhibitory and excitatory cells, somatostatin produced these currents only in inhibitory neurons, suggesting that its pro-nociceptive effects are mediated by disinhibition. Our results demonstrate that certain distinctive populations of inhibitory and excitatory interneuron can be recognised in lamina II. Combining this approach with identification of other neurochemical markers should allow further clarification of neuronal circuitry in the superficial dorsal horn.