Protein kinase C isoforms including the alpha isozyme have been implicated in morphine tolerance. In the present study, we examined the effect of intrathecal delivery of an antisense oligonucleotide targeting rat protein kinase Calpha mRNA on the expression of spinal protein kinase Calpha isozyme and spinal morphine tolerance. Continuous intrathecal infusion of rats with morphine produced an increase in paw withdrawal threshold to thermal stimulation on day 1, which disappeared by day 5. On day 6, a bolus intrathecal injection of morphine (a probe dose) produced significantly less analgesia in morphine-infused rats than in saline-infused rats, suggesting tolerance. Intrathecal treatment with the protein kinase Calpha antisense concurrent with spinal morphine infusion not only maintained the analgesic effect of morphine during the 5-day infusion, it also significantly increased responsiveness to the probe morphine dose on day 6. In comparison, the missense used in the same treatment paradigm had no effect. The inhibitory effect of protein kinase Calpha antisense on spinal morphine tolerance was dose-dependent, and reversible. Intrathecal treatment with the antisense, but not the missense, in rats decreased expression of spinal protein kinase Calpha mRNA and protein, as revealed by real-time quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction and western blots. Expression of the gamma isozyme was not affected by the oligonucleotides. The antisense also attenuated protein kinase C-mediated phosphorylation in spinal cord. These results demonstrate that selective reduction in the expression of the spinal protein kinase Calpha isozyme followed by a decrease of local protein kinase C-mediated phosphorylation will reverse spinal morphine infusion-induced tolerance. This finding is consistent with the view that tolerance produced by morphine infusion is dependent upon an increase in phosphorylation by protein kinase C, and also it emphasizes that the protein kinase Calpha isozyme and its activation in spinal cord may specifically participate in the phenomenon of opiate tolerance.