Clearance studies in rats using kappa opioid agonists have demonstrated that agonists that can cross the blood-brain barrier are more potent water diuretics than agonists which have limited access to the brain. The mechanism of kappa agonist-induced water diuresis is unclear but may involve inhibition of vasopressin secretion and/or an adrenomedullary factor. In the present study the effect of an alpha-2 adrenoceptor antagonist (yohimbine, 10 micrograms/kg.min i.v.) on kappa agonist-induced water diuresis was evaluated in conscious chronically instrumented rats. BRL 53117 (1-[(3,4-dichlorophenyl)acetyl]-2-[(3-hydroxy-1-pyrrolidinyl) methyl]4,4-dimethyl piperidine), a kappa agonist that can cross the blood-brain barrier, caused a dose-dependent (1-100 micrograms/kg) water diuresis which was attenuated by yohimbine. The effective dose to cause a free water clearnace of zero for BRL 53117 was 13 +/- 5 micrograms/kg in vehicle-treated rats and 37 +/- 12 micrograms/kg in yohimbine-treated rats. BRL 52974 (5-[(3,4-dichlorophenyl)acetyl]4-(1-pyrrolidinylmethyl)-4,5,6,7-te trahydro- 1H-imidazo[4,5-c]pyridine), a compound with limited ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, also caused a dose-dependent water diuresis, albeit at higher doses (30-3000 micrograms/kg), and thus a higher effective dose to cause a free water clearance of zero (129 +/- 61 micrograms/kg); however, the effect was abolished by yohimbine. The data suggest that kappa agonists cause a water diuresis by both a central mechanism involving inhibition of vasopressin secretion and a peripheral mechanism involving stimulation of renal alpha-2 receptors.