The identification of an equatorial frog toxin, epibatidine, as a potent non-morphinic analgesic, selective for neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, provoked a marked renewal in our understanding of pain and its mechanisms. In this work we have examined the effects of epibatidine at the major brain rat alpha4beta2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor expressed in a cell line. Fast drug applications obtained with a modified liquid filament system were used for the analyses of the currents evoked by acetylcholine, nicotine and epibatidine. Characterized by a slow onset and offset, epibatidine responses were of smaller amplitude to those evoked by acetylcholine or nicotine. About a thousand times more sensitive to epibatidine than acetylcholine, the alpha4beta2 receptor also displayed a more pronounced apparent desensitization to this compound. Finally, overnight exposure to 1 nM epibatidine failed to produce the functional upregulation observed with nicotine. These data indicate that, at the rat alpha4beta2 receptor, epibatidine acts as a partial agonist causing a pronounced inhibition of agonist evoked currents at concentrations that do not activate the receptors.