Neurons responsive to stimulation of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) region were recorded from superficial laminae at the trigeminal subnucleus caudalis/upper cervical cord (Vc/C2) junction region of cycling female rats under barbiturate anesthesia. To determine if receptive field (RF) properties or sensitivity to algesic chemicals of TMJ units vary over the estrous cycle, animals were selected from proestrous (high estrogen) or early diestrous (low estrogen) stages. More than 90% of TMJ units from each group received convergent nociceptive input [wide dynamic range (WDR) or nociceptive specific (NS)-like] from facial skin. The cutaneous high-threshold RF areas of WDR units from proestrous rats were 30% larger than diestrous units, while RF areas of NS units were similar. Bradykinin (BK, 0.1-10 μM) injection into the TMJ region excited a high percentage of units (>80% of total) from both groups in a dose-related manner. However, BK-evoked response magnitude (Rmag, +140%) and duration (+64%) were greater for proestrous than diestrous units. Both WDR and NS-like TMJ units of proestrous females displayed enhanced BK-evoked Rmag values and response duration. Glutamate or mustard oil excitation of TMJ units was not affected by stage of the estrous cycle. Several TMJ units from proestrous and diestrous females were activated antidromically from the contralateral posterior thalamus, indicating that projection and nonprojection units were included in the sample population. These results were consistent with the hypothesis that factors related to stage of the estrous cycle modify the processing of deep craniofacial inputs by superficial dorsal horn neurons at the spinomedullary junction, a key region for the initial integration of sensory signals from the TMJ.