The effect of diabetes mellitus on opiate-mediated inhibition of calcium current density (I(D Ca) [pA pF-1]) and cytosolic calcium response ([Ca2+]i nM) to depolarization with elevated KCl and capsaicin was assessed. Experiments were performed on isolated, acutely dissociated dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons from diabetic, BioBreeding/Worcester (BB/W) rats and age-matched control animals. Sciatic nerve conduction velocity was significantly decreased in diabetic animals compared to controls. Mean I(DCa) and [Ca2+]i responses to capsaicin and elevated KCl recorded in DRGs from diabetic animals were significantly larger than those recorded in DRG neurons from controls. In neurons from diabetic animals, the opiate agonist dynorphin A (Dyn A; 1, 3, and 5 microM) had significantly less inhibitory effect on I(D Ca) and KCl-induced [Ca2+]i responses compared to controls. Omega-conotoxin GVIA (omega-CgTX; 10 microM) and pertussis toxin (PTX; 250 ng ml-1) abolished Dyn A-mediated inhibition of I(DCa) and [Ca2+]i in control and diabetic neurons, suggesting that Dyn A modulated predominantly N-type calcium channels coupled to opiate receptors via PTX-sensitive (Gi/o) inhibitory G proteins. These results suggest that opiate-mediated regulation of PTX-sensitive, G protein-coupled calcium channels is diminished in diabetes and that this correlates with impaired regulation of cytosolic calcium.