Antidepressants are analgesic in the absence or presence of depression. The underlying mechanisms probably involve a complex interplay between several neurotransmitter systems and neuroreceptors. Alpha-adrenoceptors play an important role in pain processing and alpha2-adrenoceptor agonists have been used in clinical pain management so we have investigated whether alpha-adrenoceptor sub-types mediate the antinociceptive activity of antidepressants. Thus, the abdominal constriction assay in mice was used to examine the antinociceptive responses of a diverse range of antidepressants following alpha1- or alpha2-adrenoceptor antagonism. The antidepressants or monoamine reuptake inhibitors included the serotonin selective reuptake inhibitor paroxetine, the serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor sibutramine, the resolved (+)- and (-)-enantiomers of the noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor oxaprotiline, plus the tricyclics amitriptyline and dothiepin. All these compounds have been previously shown to be antinociceptive in this paradigm. The respective alpha1- and alpha2-adrenoceptor antagonists prazosin and RX821002 ([2-(2-methoxy-1,-4-benzodioxan-2-yl)-2-imidazoline]) did not produce antinociception though at 1.0 mg kg(-1); s.c., RX821002 but not prazosin blocked clonidine antinociception. The antinociceptive activity produced by sub-maximal doses of amitriptyline, dothiepin, sibutramine, paroxetine, (+)- and (-)-oxaprotiline were all blocked by RX821002 but not by prazosin. Additionally, both morphine and aspirin antinociception was resistant to alpha1- and alpha2-adrenoceptor antagonism. Thus, alpha2- rather than alpha1-adrenoceptors may play an integral role in antidepressant antinociception irrespective of the propensity for inhibiting reuptake of not only noradrenaline but also serotonin. It is probable, however, that other differing pharmacological properties of some antidepressants, such as opioid-like activity, may complicate any empirical correlation between monoamine uptake and analgesia.