1.. Nociceptin (orphanin FQ) is a novel neuropeptide capable of inducing a variety of biological actions via activation of a specific G-protein coupled receptor. However, the lack of a selective nociceptin receptor antagonist has hampered our understanding of nociceptin actions and the role of this peptide in pathophysiological states. As part of a broader programme of research, geared to the identification and characterization of nociceptin receptor ligands, we report that the novel peptide [Nphe(1)]nociceptin(1-13)NH(2) acts as the first truly selective and competitive nociceptin receptor antagonist and is devoid of any residual agonist activity. 2. [Nphe(1)]nociceptin(1-13)NH(2) binds selectively to recombinant nociceptin receptors expressed in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells (pK(i) 8.4) and competitively antagonizes the inhibitory effects of nociceptin (i) on cyclic AMP accumulation in CHO cells (pA(2) 6.0) and (ii) on electrically evoked contractions in isolated tissues of the mouse, rat and guinea-pig with pA(2) values ranging from 6.0 to 6.4. 3. [Nphe(1)]nociceptin(1-13)NH(2) is also active in vivo, where it prevents the pronociceptive and antimorphine actions of intracerebroventricularly applied nociceptin, measured in the mouse tail withdrawal assay. Moreover, [Nphe(1)]nociceptin(1-13)NH(2) produces per se a dose dependent, naloxone resistant antinociceptive action and, at relatively low doses, potentiates morphine-induced analgesia. 4. Collectively our data indicate that [Nphe(1)]nociceptin(1-13)NH(2), acting as a nociceptin receptor antagonist, may be the prototype of a new class of analgesics.