The CNS expresses many components of an extracellular protease signalling system, including the protease-activated receptor-1 (PAR-1) whose tethered ligand is generated by thrombin. Activation of PAR-1 potentiates NMDA receptor activity in hippocampal neurons. Because NMDA activity mediates hyperalgesia, we tested the hypothesis that PAR-1 receptors also regulate pain processing. In contrast to the potentiating effect of thrombin in the hippocampus, NMDA-induced behaviours and the transient mechanical hyperalgesia (von Frey fibres) induced by intrathecally injected NMDA in mice were inhibited by thrombin in a dose-related fashion. This anti-hyperalgesic effect was mimicked by SFLLRN, the natural ligand at PAR-1 binding sites, but not SLIGRL-amide, a PAR-2 agonist. The effects of SFLLRN were less potent and shorter in duration than that of thrombin, consistent with its more transient effect on PAR-1 sites. Both thrombin and SFLLRN inhibited acetic acid-induced abdominal stretch (writhing) behaviours, which were also sensitive to NMDA antagonism, but not hot plate or tail flick latencies, which were insensitive to NMDA antagonists. TFLLR-amide, a selective ligand for PAR-1 sites, mimicked the effects of thrombin while RLLFT-amide, an inactive, reverse peptide sequence, did not. In addition, the effect of TFLLR-amide was prevented by RWJ-56110, a PAR-1 antagonist. Thrombin and TFLLR-amide produced no oedema (Evans Blue extravasation) in the spinal cord that would account for these effects. Based on the reported ability of thrombin to mobilize endothelin-1 from astrocytes, we tested the role of this compound in thrombin's activity. BQ123, an endothelin A receptor antagonist, prevented thrombin's inhibition of writhing and NMDA-induced behaviours while BQ788, an endothelin B receptor antagonist, did not. Thus, activation of PAR-1 sites by thrombin in the CNS appears to inhibit NMDA-mediated nociception by a pathway involving endothelin type A receptors.