Nociceptin/orphanin FQ (N/OFQ) modulates various biological functions, including nociception, via selective stimulation of the N/OFQ peptide receptor (NOP). Here we used the NOP selective antagonist UFP-101 to characterize the receptor involved in the spinal antinociceptive effects of N/OFQ evaluated in the mouse tail withdrawal assay and to investigate the mechanism underlying this action by assessing excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSC) in laminas I and II of the mouse spinal cord dorsal horn with patch-clamp techniques. Intrathecal (i.t.) injection of N/OFQ in the range of 0.1-10 nmol produced a dose dependent antinociceptive effect, which was prevented by UFP-101, but not by naloxone. In contrast the antinociceptive effect of the mu-opioid peptide receptor agonist endomorphin-1 was blocked by naloxone but not by UFP-101. Moreover, N/OFQ and endomorphin-1 induced a significant antinociceptive effect in wild type mice while in mice knockout for the NOP receptor gene only endomorphin-1 was found to be active. In mouse spinal cord slices 1 microM N/OFQ reduced EPSC to 60+/-4% of control values. This inhibitory effect was reversed in a concentration dependent manner by UFP-101 (pA2 value 6.44). The present results demonstrate that N/OFQ-induced spinal antinociception in vivo and inhibition of spinal excitatory transmission in vitro are mediated by receptors of the NOP type.