Non-selective opioid receptor antagonists are increasingly used in the treatment of alcohol dependence. The clinical effects are significant but the effect size is rather small and unpleasant side effects may limit the benefits of the compounds. Ligands acting at mu- and/or delta- receptors can alter the voluntary intake of ethanol in various animal models. Therefore, the attenuating effects of selective opioid receptor ligands on ethanol intake may be of clinical interest in the treatment of alcoholism. The objective of this study was to examine the effects of a selective kappa-receptor agonist, U50,488H on voluntary ethanol intake in the rat. We used a restricted access model with a free choice between an ethanol solution (10% v/v) and water. During the 3-days baseline period, the rats received a daily saline injection (1 ml/kg, i.p.) 15 min before the 2 h access to ethanol. The animals had free access to water at all times. The control group received a daily saline injection during the 4-days treatment-period, whereas the treatment groups received a daily dose of U50,488H (2.5, 5.0 or 10 mg/kg per day). Animals treated with U50,488H dose-dependently decreased their ethanol intake. The effect of the highest dose of U50,488H was reduced by pre-treatment with the selective kappa-antagonist nor-binaltorphimine (nor-BNI). These results demonstrate that activation of kappa-opioid receptors can attenuate voluntary ethanol intake in the rat, and the data suggest that the brain dynorphin/kappa-receptor systems may represent a novel target for pharmacotherapy in the treatment of alcohol dependence.