Nociceptin (NC), alias Orphanin FQ (OFQ) is a heptadecapeptide structurally related to opioid peptides, especially Dynorphin A, which, however, does not interact with classic opioid receptors. NC selectively activates its own receptor (OP(4)), which has been shown to be insensitive to the naturally occurring opioid peptides as well as to a large number of non-peptide opioid receptor ligands, including naloxone. Thus, the NC/OP(4) system represents a new peptide-based signaling pathway, which is pharmacologically distinct from the opioid systems. The pharmacological tools available for investigating NC actions are at present rather limited and include: 1) peptide ligands obtained from structure activity studies performed using NC(1-13)NH(2) as a template or discovered by screening peptide combinatorial libraries; 2) nonpeptide ligands that are either molecules already known to interact with classic opioid receptors or novel molecules designed and synthesized as selective ligands of the OP(4) receptor. In the present paper the functional data obtained from both in vitro and in vivo studies with each relevant OP(4) receptor ligand will be analyzed and discussed comparing the advantages and disadvantages of each molecule. We hope that the present work will aid investigators, working in the NC/OP(4) field, in the choice of the pharmacological tools suitable for their experiments.