The kappa-opioid compound U-69,593 was studied in rats in vitro in binding assays to assess its selectivity at the single types of opioid sites and in vivo to assess its analgesic activity and effect on intestinal propulsion. In vitro the U-69,593 inhibition curve of [3H]-(-)-bremazocine binding suppressed at mu- and alpha-sites was biphasic and the inhibition constant (Kl) at the high-affinity site (10-18 nM) was two orders of magnitude smaller than the Kl at the low-affinity site. The Kl at mu- and alpha-sites were respectively 3.3 and 8.5 microM. Thus [3H]-(-)-bremazocine, suppressed at mu- and alpha-sites, may still bind more than one site, which U-69,593 might distinguish. In vivo U-69,593 i.p. prolonged the reaction time of rats on a 55 degrees C hot-plate and the dose of naloxone required to antagonize this effect was 40 times the dose that antagonized morphine-induced antinociception, suggesting the involvement of the kappa-receptor. In the intestinal transit test U-69,593 at doses between 0.5 and 15 mg/kg i.p. only slightly slowed intestinal transit of a charcoal meal in rats with no dose-relation; it partly but significantly antagonized morphine-induced constipation. These results suggest that the kappa-type of opioid receptor, with which U-69,593 interacts may induce analgesia, but has no appreciable role in the mechanisms of opioid-induced inhibition of intestinal transit in rats.