The effect of the Aconitum alkaloids aconitine, 3-acetylaconitine, lappaconitine, and N-desacetyllappaconitine to inhibit [3H]noradrenaline uptake was investigated in rat hippocampal synaptosomes. Aconitine and 3-acetylaconitine, which are known to activate sodium channels, had comparable inhibitory potencies and yielded Ki (inhibitor constant) values of 230 +/- 66 nM and 316 +/- 96 nM, respectively. In contrast, lappaconitine and N-desacetyllappaconitine failed to inhibit [3H]noradrenaline uptake. When either lappaconitine or N-desacetyllappaconitine was applied in combination with aconitine, [3H]noradrenaline uptake was not affected. The sodium channel blocker tetrodotoxin enhanced [3H]noradrenaline uptake, whereas uptake was completely blocked in sodium-free incubation medium. The inhibitory action of aconitine and 3-acetylaconitine on [3H]noradrenaline uptake was blocked by addition of tetrodotoxin. Patch clamp studies performed on cultured rat hippocampal neurons revealed an inhibitory action of lappaconitine and N-desacetyllappaconitine on whole cell sodium currents. It is concluded that the blockade of [3H]noradrenaline uptake evoked by aconitine and 3-acetylaconitine is mediated indirectly by an increased sodium concentration in the synaptosomes.