Cannabinoids modulate nociceptive processing in models of acute, inflammatory and neuropathic pain. We have investigated the location and function of cannabinoid receptors on cultured neonatal dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurones and F-11 cells, a dorsal root ganglionxneuroblastoma hybridoma which displays several of the features of authentic DRG neurones. CB(1) receptor immunolabelling was observed on the cell bodies and as fine puncta on processes of both cultured DRG neurones and F-11 cells. Additionally, fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) analysis provided evidence that both CB(1) and CB(2) receptors are expressed on populations of cells within the cultured DRG and F-11 cells. The cannabinoid receptor agonist (+)-WIN55212 (10 and 100 nM) inhibited the mean voltage-activated Ca(2+) current in DRG neurones by 21% and 30%, respectively. The isomer, (-)-WIN55212 (10 and 100 nM) produced significantly less inhibition of 6% and 10% respectively. The CB(1) selective receptor antagonist SR141716A (100 nM) enhanced the peak high voltage-activated Ca(2+) current by 24% and simultaneous application of SR141716A (100 nM) and (+)-WIN55212 (100 nM) resulted in a significant attenuation of the inhibition obtained with (+)-WIN55212 alone. These data give functional evidence for the hypothesis that the analgesic actions of cannabinoids may be mediated by presynaptic inhibition of transmitter release in sensory neurones.