The endogenous peptide nociceptin (orphanin FQ) plays a role in several important physiological functions in the CNS such as pain, anxiety and locomotion. It has previously been found that injection of 10 nmol nociceptin into the CA3 region of the hippocampus markedly impairs spatial learning and memory in the rat. The present study examined the effects of lower doses of nociceptin (3.3, 1, 0.33 and 0.1 nmol/rat) on spatial learning. The 3.3 nmol dose impaired spatial learning over the 5 days of training although the effect was not as strong as with 10 nmol. In contrast, the two lower doses, 1 and 0.33 nmol/rat, improved spatial learning whereas the lowest dose, 0.1 nmol/rat, had no significant effect. Both the impairing and facilitating effect of nociceptin could be blocked by an ORL-1 receptor antagonist, [Phe1Psi(CH(2)-NH)Gly2]NC(1-13)NH2 (10 nmol/rat), indicating that both effects are ORL-1 receptor-mediated. The 3.3 nmol dose of nociceptin did not impair the performance in the visual platform task and did not alter swim speed or motor activity indicating no effects on motivation or motor performance. Taken together, these results show that nociceptin has a biphasic dose-effect curve and provide further evidence for a role of this neuropeptide in cognitive processes in the hippocampus.