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The direct and indirect effects of nitrous oxide (N2O) on the nociceptive responses of lumbar dorsal horn neurons, and the indirect effects on midbrain reticular formation (MRF) neurons and thalamic neurons were determined in goats anaesthetized with isoflurane. The technique used enabled the differential delivery of N2O to either the torso or the cerebral circulation, thus allowing assessment of the direct spinal and indirect brain effects of N2O. Systemic delivery of N2O appeared to have divergent effects, facilitating (4/11) or depressing (7/11) the responses of dorsal horn neurons. Such divergent effects were also observed when N2O was differentially delivered to the circulation in the torso (i.e. the spinal cord). Likewise, MRF and thalamic responses to noxious stimulation were variably affected by administration of N2O to the torso, with some cells facilitated (7/13 MRF neurons, 3/8 thalamic neurons) and others depressed (6/13 MRF neurons, 5/8 thalamic neurons). It appears that N2O has variable effects on the caprine CNS. The facilitatory action of N2O might partially explain why it is a relatively weak anaesthetic.