Four different opioid receptor binding assays and three different isolated tissue studies were used to screen for delta receptor-selective nonpeptidic compounds. (+/-)-4-((alpha-R*)-alpha-((2S*,5R*)-4-Allyl-2,5- dimethyl-1-piperazinyl)-3-hydroxybenzyl)-N,N-diethylbenzamide (BW373U86) was a potent delta receptor-selective ligand in receptor binding assays. The Ki values were 1.8 +/- 0.4, 15 +/- 3, 85 +/- 4 and 34 +/- 3 nM for delta, mu, epsilon and kappa receptor binding sites, respectively. BW373U86 inhibited electrically evoked muscle contraction of mouse vas deferens with an ED50 value of 0.2 +/- 0.06 nM. This inhibitory effect of BW373U86 was antagonized by the delta receptor-selective antagonist naltrindole in a competitive manner: the Schild plot indicated a slope of 1 and a pA2 value of 9.43 (Ke = 3.7 x 10(-10) M), which is consistent with the high affinity of naltrindole in delta receptors. BW373U86 did not interact significantly with other receptors. BW373U86 inhibited the acoustic startle reflex after subcutaneous administration from 0.2- to 2-mg/kg doses in rats, and this inhibition was blocked by naltrindole. BW373U86 also induced a dose-dependent increase of locomotor activity in rats at similar doses. This effect was inhibited by naltrindole. These data suggest that BW373U86 is a potent and selective nonpeptidic delta agonist, and it elicits distinct in vivo pharmacological activities.