Two cold-sensitive transient receptor potential (TRP) channels, TRPA1 and TRPM8, have been identified and considered interesting because of their possible roles in thermosensation, nociception and other functions. Recently, we have reported that the phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase occurred in primary afferent neurons in response to noxious heat stimulation of the peripheral tissue, i.e. activity-dependent activation of extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase and p38 in dorsal root ganglion neurons. In the present study, we investigated the phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase, p38, and c-Jun N-terminal kinase in the rat dorsal root ganglion by cold stimulation using immunohistochemistry. Cold stimuli (28-4 degrees C) were applied by immersion of the hind paw into a water bath (six times of 10 s stimulation and 10 s interval, total 2 min). Noxious cold stimulation induced phosphorylated-extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase and phosphorylated-p38, but not phosphorylated-c-Jun N-terminal kinase, in small to medium diameter sensory neurons with a peak at 2 min after stimulation. We found that a cold stimulation at 4 degrees C showed a marked increase in the number of activated neurons. Furthermore, double staining for phosphorylated-extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase and phosphorylated-p38 showed no colocalization in the dorsal root ganglion neurons. We then performed double-labeling experiments for TRPA1 and TRPM8 mRNA and phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinase. The majority of phosphorylated-extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase-positive neurons also expressed TRPM8 mRNA, whereas phosphorylated-p38 heavily colocalized with TRPA1 mRNA after noxious cold stimulation. Our data suggest that the noxious, but not innocuous, cold stimulation in vivo induced differential activation of extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase and p38 pathways in each subpopulation containing TRPA1 or TRPM8 in dorsal root ganglion.