Opioids have been postulated to play an immunomodulatory role in the pathogenesis of HIV-1. Synthetic kappa-opioid receptor (KOR) ligands have been found to inhibit HIV-1 expression in acutely infected microglial cell cultures. We recently found that interleukin(IL)-1beta and tumor necrosis factor(TNF)-alpha have antiviral effects in acutely infected mixed glial/neuronal cell cultures. In the present study, we investigated whether selective KOR ligands would exert antiviral effects in acutely infected brain cell cultures. While the KOR ligand trans-3,4-dichloro-N-methyl-N[2-(1-pyrolidinyl)cyclohexyl]benze neaceamide methanesulfonate (U50,488) alone had little anti-HIV-1 activity, this opioid potentiated in a concentration-dependent manner the antiviral activity of TNF-alpha, but not of IL-1beta. The potentiating effect of U50,488 was detected after a 6-hr pretreatment and peaked at 24 hr. The KOR antagonist nor-binaltorphimine completely blocked the potentiating effect of U50,488, suggesting the involvement of a KOR-mediated mechanism. Antibodies to TNF-alpha completely blocked the potentiating effect of U50,488, suggesting a critical role for TNF-alpha. Antibodies to IL-1beta blocked the potentiating effect of U50,488, suggesting that IL-1beta was released following U50,488 treatment, which might contribute to the potentiating effect of U50,488. These in vitro findings support the notion that synthetic kappa-opioids could be considered as potential adjunctive therapeutic agents in HIV-1-related brain disease.