Previous studies in rats measuring latency to tail flick with radiant heat have shown that the antinociceptive effect induced by electrical stimulation of different frequencies at traditional acupuncture sites is mediated via different opioid receptors in the spinal cord. The present study was designed to observe (1) whether electrical stimulation at such sites could produce antinociceptive effects in the cold water tail-flick (CWT) test; (2) whether the antinociceptive effects could be blocked by s.c. injection of the opioid receptor antagonist naloxone and (3) whether i.c.v. injection of selective antagonists for mu (cyclic D-Phe-Cys-Tyr-D-Trp-Arg-Thr-Pen-Thr-NH2, CTAP), delta (naltrindole) or kappa (nor-binaltorphimine) opioid receptors would block the antinociceptive effect produced by electrical stimulation. Sprague-Dawley rats were stimulated at frequencies of 2, 30 or 100 Hz with acupuncture needles inserted into acupoints Zusanli and Sanyinjiao in the hind leg for 30 min. Antinociception was assayed in the CWT. The results showed that (1) a significant, frequency-related increase in threshold in the CWT was observed in all electrical stimulation groups as compared with the placebo group and the antinociceptive effect lasted about 30 min poststimulation; (2) naloxone (s.c.) antagonized the antinociceptive effect induced by 2 Hz, 30 Hz or 100 Hz electrical stimulation and (3) either CTAP or naltrindole (i.c.v.) almost completely blocked the antinociceptive effect induced by 2 Hz or 30 Hz electrical stimulation, but was less effective in blocking antinociception induced by 100 Hz electrical stimulation; nor-binaltorphimine (i.c.v.) greatly reduced antinociception induced by 30 Hz or 100 Hz electrical stimulation, but not by 2 Hz electrical stimulation. These results indicate that the antinociception induced by 2 Hz electrical stimulation is mediated by both mu and delta opioid receptors; the antinociception induced by 100 Hz electrical stimulation is mediated primarily by the kappa receptor; and the antinociception induced by 30 Hz electrical stimulation is mediated by all three opioid receptor types. Thus, the antinociceptive effect induced by peripheral electrical stimulation, as measured by the CWT, involves opioid receptors in the rat brain.