This experiment was performed to investigate whether obovatol isolated from the leaves of Magnolia obovata has anxiolytic-like effects through GABA-benzodiazepine-receptors Cl(-) channel activation. The anxiolytic-like effects of obovatol in mice were examined using the elevated plus-maze and the automatic hole-board apparatus. Oral administration of obovatol (0.2, 0.5 and 1.0 mg/kg) significantly increased the number of open arm entries and the spent time on open arm in the elevated plus-maze test, compared with those of saline. Obovatol (0.2, 0.5 and 1.0 mg/kg) also produced anxiolytic-like effects, as reflected by an increase in head-dipping behaviors. These effects were comparable to those of diazepam (1.0 mg/kg), a well known anxiolytic drug. On the other hand, the anxiolytic-like effects of obovatol and diazepam were reversed by flumazenil, a benzodiazepine receptor antagonist, suggesting that the anxiolytic-like effects of obovatol were involved in GABA-benzodiazepine receptors complex. Obovatol was muscle relaxant by rota-rod test, but its effect was weaker than diazepam. Spontaneous locomotor activity also was inhibited by obovatol. Obovatol selectively increased the GABA(A) receptors alpha(1) subunit expression in amygdala of mouse brain. Obovatol also showed to bind to benzodiazepine receptors competitively in experiments using [(3)H]flunitrazepam in the cerebral cortex of mouse brain. Moreover, obovatol (10, 20 and 50 microM) increased Cl(-) influx and the increased Cl(-) influx was inhibited by flumazenil, in primary cultured neuronal cells and IMR-32 human neuroblastoma cells. These results suggest that obovatol has anxiolytic-like effects, and these pharmacological effects may be mediated by GABA-benzodiazepine receptors-activated Cl(-) channel opening.