Lesioning using radiofrequency (RF) current has been increasingly used in clinical practice for the treatment of pain syndromes. Although formation of heat causing "thermocoagulation" of the nervous tissues is thought to be responsible of the clinical outcome, a more recent modality of RF application named pulsed radiofrequency (PRF) delivers the RF current without producing destructive levels of heat. In our study, we compared the effects of conventional RF (CRF) and PRF on rabbit dorsal root ganglion (DRG) morphology, including also control and sham operated groups. The setting of the experiment and the RF parameters used were similar to those used in current clinical practice. The specimens were analyzed both with light microscopy and electron microscopy, two weeks after the procedure. At the light microscopic level, all groups had preserved the normal DRG morphology and no differences were observed between them. In the electron microscopic analysis there were no pathological findings in the control and sham operated groups. But the ganglion cells in the RF groups had enlarged endoplasmic reticulum cisterns and increased number of cytoplasmic vacuoles which were more evident in the CRF group. Some of the ganglion cells in the CRF group had mitochondrial degeneration, nuclear membrane disorders or loss of nuclear membrane and neurolemma integrity. The myelinated and unmyelinated nerve fibers were of normal morphology in all groups. Our results suggest that PRF application is less destructive of cellular morphology than CRF at clinically used "doses". Before making certain judgements, more experimental and clinical studies should be planned. (c) 2004 European Federation of Chapters of the International Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.