Nociceptin (orphanin FQ) is a novel peptide isolated from brain tissue that has an amino acid sequence most similar to that of the endogenous opioid peptide dynorphin A. Aside from this similarity, the association of nociceptin to the endogenous opioid peptide systems and the functional importance of this new peptide in vivo are not completely known. Here we report that nociceptin is physiologically active in vivo and produces marked changes in the renal excretion of water and sodium. In conscious Sprague-Dawley rats, intravenous infusion of nociceptin produced a profound increase in urine flow rate and decrease in urinary sodium excretion. In further studies, intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) injection of nociceptin into conscious rats produced a concurrent diuresis (dose-dependent) and antinatriuresis. The magnitude and pattern of the central nociceptin-induced water diuresis was similar to that produced by i.c.v. dynorphin A. Whereas i.c.v. pretreatment with the selective kappa-opioid receptor antagonist, nor-binaltorphimine, completely prevented the renal responses produced by dynorphin A, this antagonist did not alter the diuresis or antinatriuresis produced by central nociceptin. Thus, these results indicate that in conscious rats, nociceptin produces a selective water diuresis via a central nervous system mechanism independent of kappa-opioid receptors. Together, these observations suggest that endogenous nociceptin may be a novel peptide involved in the central control of water balance and ultimately in the regulation of arterial blood pressure. In the future, analogues of nociceptin may prove to be the first clinically useful water diuretics for patients with water-retaining diseases.