We examined the interactions of D,L-laudanosine, a potentially epileptogenic metabolite of the neuromuscular relaxant atracurium besylate, with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and opioid binding sites, all of which have been implicated in seizure activity. Laudanosine was almost ineffective at [3H]muscimol binding to high-affinity GABA receptors (IC50 = 100 microM). However, laudanosine displayed an inhibitory effect at the low-affinity GABA receptors labeled by [3H]bicuculline methochloride, with an IC50 value of 10 microM. At the opioid receptor subtype, laudanosine lowered radiolabeled opioid binding at the mu 1, mu 2, delta, kappa 1, and kappa 3 receptors with Ki values of 2.7, 13, 5.5, 21, and 24 microM, respectively, concentrations seen clinically in blood and approaching those measured in cerebrospinal fluid. Saturation studies of mu 1, mu 2, delta, and kappa 3 sites in the presence of laudanosine revealed competitive interactions, with increases in the apparent Kd values but without significant changes in the maximal numbers of binding sites. In addition, we investigated whether the in vitro laudanosine-opioid receptor interaction would also be expressed by analgesic physiologic effects. We found that laudanosine elicited a dose-dependent analgesia in mouse tail-flick assay that was attenuated by coadministration of beta-funaltrexamine (mu 1- and mu 2-selective antagonist) and of naloxonazine (mu 1 antagonist), but not by nor-binaltorphimine (kappa 1-selective antagonist) or naltrindole (delta-selective antagonist), indicating a mu 1 mechanism for analgesia-mediated property of laudanosine. There is evidence suggesting mu 2 activity as well, but this is due to the ability of laudanosine to elicit analgesia when given intrathecally. We also observed cross-tolerance between laudanosine and morphine, as well as a partial effect of laudanosine on gastrointestinal transit. These results suggest an interaction between laudanosine and the low-affinity GABA receptor, as well as opioid mu 1 and mu 2 receptors.