Major problem involved in treatment of chronic pain with morphine is the development of tolerance and dependence. Previous studies have demonstrated the participation of melanocortin (MC) system in the development of tolerance to antinociceptive effect of morphine. However, the impact of supraspinal MC4 receptors (MC4 R) modulation on this phenomenon and morphine withdrawal hyperalgesia remained unexplored. We investigated the role of central MC4 R in acute, chronic effects and withdrawal reactions of morphine using tail flick test. Acute intracerebroventricular (icv) administration of morphine (2-20 microg/rat) exhibited antinociceptive activity, which was antagonized by subeffective dose of nonselective MC R agonist NDP-MSH (0.04 ng/rat, icv), and potentiated by subeffective dose of MC4 R antagonist HS014 (0.008 ng/rat, icv). Isobolographic analysis revealed antagonistic interaction between NDP-MSH and morphine, and additive interaction between HS014 and morphine combinations. While chronic icv infusion of morphine (20 ng/microl/h) via osmotic pump for 7 days developed tolerance to its antinociceptive effect, its discontinuation produced hyperalgesia. Co-administration of HS014 (0.008 ng/rat, icv) with chronic morphine not only delayed the development of tolerance but also prevented withdrawal hyperalgesia. Furthermore, acute treatment with HS014 (0.008 and 0.04 ng/rat, icv) dose dependently attenuated the withdrawal hyperalgesia. This suggests the involvement of central MC4 R in the mechanism of development of tolerance and dependence following chronic morphine administration. We speculate that targeting this receptor may be a novel strategy to improve the effectiveness of morphine in the treatment of chronic pain.