Terpineol, a volatile terpenoid alcohol of low toxicity, is widely used in the perfumery industry. It is an important chemical constituent of the essential oil of many plants with widespread applications in folk medicine and in aromatherapy. The effects of terpineol on the compound action potential (CAP) of rat sciatic nerve were studied. Terpineol induced a dose-dependent blockade of the CAP. At 100 microM, terpineol had no demonstrable effect. At 300 microM terpineol, peak-to-peak amplitude and conduction velocity of CAP were significantly reduced at the end of 180-min exposure of the nerve to the drug, from 3.28 +/- 0.22 mV and 33.5 +/- 7.05 m/s, respectively, to 1.91 +/- 0.51 mV and 26.2 +/- 4.55 m/s. At 600 microM, terpineol significantly reduced peak-to-peak amplitude and conduction velocity from 2.97 +/- 0.55 mV and 32.8 +/- 3.91 m/s to 0.24 +/- 0.23 mV and 2.72 +/- 2.72 m/s, respectively (N = 5). All these effects developed slowly and were reversible upon 180-min washout.