To determine whether estrogen status modulated dorsal horn neural activity relevant to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) processing single units were recorded in superficial and deep laminae at the trigeminal subnucleus caudalis/upper cervical cord (Vc/C1-2) junction of ovariectomized (OvX) female rats under barbiturate anesthesia after 17beta-estradiol (E2) treatment for 2 days. E2 dose-dependently enhanced the response to intra-TMJ stimulation by adenosine triphosphate (ATP) of neurons classified as nociceptive specific (NS), but not wide dynamic range (WDR), in superficial laminae. ATP caused similar responses among NS and WDR neurons from deep laminae in all groups. By contrast, the cutaneous receptive field areas of WDR, but not NS, units in superficial and deep laminae were enlarged in high E2-treated (HE2) compared with low E2-treated (LE2) females. Units from untreated or vehicle-treated male rats displayed responses similar to those of LE2 females. TMJ units in superficial laminae from females were more likely to receive convergent cutaneous input and respond to jaw movement than males, independent of E2 treatment. Western blot analysis revealed similar levels of P2X2 and P2X3 receptor protein in Vc/C1-2 or trigeminal ganglion samples in all groups. Immunohistochemistry revealed dense terminal labeling for P2X3 receptors in superficial laminae and moderate labeling in deep laminae at the Vc/C1-2 junction. These data indicated a significant linkage between estrogen status and the magnitude of articular input evoked by ATP from TMJ neurons in the superficial laminae at the Vc/C1-2 junction, whereas estrogenic modulation of TMJ neurons in deep laminae affected only the convergent input from overlying facial skin.