When morphine and clonidine are coadministered into the spinal cord (intrathecally) the resulting antinociception is greater than would be expected if the drug responses were additive; thus, a synergistic interaction. The mechanism for this synergistic interaction was investigated using agents which alter calcium channel function and G protein function. Drugs were administered intrathecally to mice and antinociception was measured using the tail flick test. The L-type calcium channel antagonists nifedipine (15 micrograms) and verapamil (15 micrograms) and the N-type antagonist omega-conotoxin GVIA (3 and 30 ng) decreased ED50 values for both morphine and clonidine three-to five-fold. The L-type calcium channel activator Bay K 8644 had a biphasic effect; 1.7 ng increased, although 170 ng decreased, morphine and clonidine ED50 values. None of the calcium channel modifiers affected the morphine/clonidine synergism. In mice pretreated with pertussis toxin (PTX, one, 10-ng dose 21 days previously), the morphine ED50 value increased two-fold, although the clonidine ED50 value was not changed. PTX pretreatment did not alter the morphine/clonidine synergism. Also, in PTX-pretreated mice, nifedipine and 1.7 ng Bay K 8644 did not alter the morphine/clonidine synergism. However, in PTX-pretreated animals omega-conotoxin GVIA (3 ng) changed the morphine/clonidine synergism to an additive interaction. Thus, both N-type calcium channels and PTX-sensitive G proteins are likely involved in spinal morphine/clonidine synergism.