Although intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) administration of orexin-A has been reported to stimulate food intake and/or feeding behaviour in rats, mice and goldfish, little attention has thus far been paid to its effects on normal patterns of feeding. In the present study, a continuous monitoring technique was used to characterise the effects of this novel neuropeptide on the microstructure of rat behaviour during a 1-h test with palatable wet mash. Particular attention was devoted to the behavioural satiety sequence, in which feeding is followed by grooming and resting. Although results confirmed the hyperphagic effects of orexin-A (3.33-30.0 microg i.c. v.), gross behavioural analysis failed to reveal any reliable effects of peptide treatment on eating, drinking, sniffing, grooming, resting, locomotion or rearing. However, microstructural analysis revealed behavioural effects of orexin-A that are both dose- and time-dependent. At lower doses (3.33-10.0 microg), orexin-A primarily delayed behavioural satiety, i.e. the normal transition from eating to resting. In contrast, the 30 microg dose initially induced a sedative-like effect, significantly suppressing eating and other active behaviours for the first 15-20 min of the test period. This sedative-like effect resulted in a phase-shifting of the entire behavioural sequence with higher than control levels of eating, grooming, locomotion, rearing and sniffing observed over the second half of the test session. Present findings illustrate the advantages of microstructural behavioural analysis and suggest that the hyperphagic response to low doses of orexin-A results largely from a delay in behavioural satiety while that seen in response to high doses may occur in rebound to initial behavioural suppression. Further studies will be required to confirm the identity of the specific orexin receptors (i.e. OX(1) or OX(2)) involved in mediating the dose-dependent behavioural effects reported.