The effects of pretreatment with a protein kinase C activator, phorbol 12,13-dibutyrate, on antinociception induced by i.c.v.-administered mu-opioid receptor agonist (D-Ala2, NMePhe4, Gly(ol)5) enkephalin (DAMGO) or morphine and epsilon-opioid receptor agonist beta-endorphin were studied in male ICR mice. The tail-flick responses were used for antinociceptive tests. I.c.v. pretreatment with phorbol 12,13-dibutyrate (50 pmol) for 30 or 60 but not 10 min attenuated antinociception induced by i.c.v.-administered DAMGO. I.c.v. pretreatment with phorbol 12,13-dibutyrate (10 and 50 pmol) for 60 min caused a dose-dependent attenuation of DAMGO (19.5 pmol)- or morphine (6.0 nmol)-induced antinociception. The dose-response curve for DAMGO-induced antinociception was shifted to the right by 7.3-fold by i.c.v. pretreatment with phorbol 12,13-dibutyrate (50 pmol) for 60 min. However, the i.c.v.-administered beta-endorphin-induced antinociception was not affected by the same pretreatment with phorbol 12,13-dibutyrate. The attenuation of i.c.v.-administered DAMGO- and morphine-induced antinociception by phorbol 12,13-dibutyrate was reversed by concomitant i.c.v. pretreatment with a selective protein kinase C inhibitor calphostin C. These results suggest that activation of protein kinase C by phorbol 12,13-dibutyrate leads to the desensitization of mu-, but not epsilon-opioid receptor-mediated antinociception. These findings also provide additional evidence for differential intracellular modulation on antinociceptive action of mu- and epsilon-opioid receptor agonists.