Background Previous clinical evidence and electrophysiologic studies in the authors' laboratory have implicated the dorsal column (DC) as an important pathway for the transmission of visceral colorectal pain. This study examined, behaviorally and electrophysiologically, the role of the DC in mediating epigastric nociception using a visceral pain model involving duodenal distension in rats. Methods For behavioral testing, the writhing-like responses produced in awake rats by graded intraduodenal balloon distension (0.1 to 0.7 ml) were tested. A DC mechanical lesion at the C2 level or a sham operation (SH, same spinal cord segment exposed but no DC lesion) was performed. The writhing-like responses to duodenal distension were tested again and the rats were compared with other rats with no lesions and with SH rats. For electrophysiologic testing, the extracellular activity of single neurons was recorded in the ventrobasal nucleus of the thalamus in anesthetized rats. The ventrobasal cells that responded to duodenal distension were tested further with this visceral stimulus before and after a lesion of the DC. Results The mechanical DC lesion significantly reduced the intensity of the writhing-like responses and increased the threshold volume that would elicit writhing-like responses compared with rats with no lesions and SH rats without any observable neurologic deficit. A lesion of the DC also significantly reduced the responses of ventrobasal cells to duodenal distension. Conclusions The DC plays an important role in signaling epigastric nociception in this experimental model. A mechanical DC lesion can produce significant visceral antinociception in rats.