Tramadol, which inhibits the reuptake of noradrenaline and serotonin, is effective in animal models of depression. Its antidepressant-like effects may be mediated mainly by the noradrenergic system. This study investigated the role of the noradrenergic system in the antidepressant-like effects of tramadol and desipramine in the unpredictable chronic mild stress model. We assessed the involvement of beta-adrenoreceptors, particularly beta(2)-receptors in the activity of these drugs. In addition, we measured the level of noradrenaline and its metabolite 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenylglycol (MHPG) in the locus coeruleus, hypothalamus, hippocampus and cerebellum in stressed mice. Unpredictable chronic mild stress induced a degradation of coat state and decreased grooming behaviour in the splash test, which was reversed by the chronic administration of tramadol (20 mg/kg) and desipramine (110 mg/kg). The nonselective P-adrenoreceptor antagonist propranolol (5 mg/kg, intraperitoneally) and the selective beta 2-receptor antagonist ICI 118,551 (2 mg/kg, intraperitoneally) reversed the antidepressant-like effects of tramadol and desipramine. Moreover, chronic tramadol and desipramine treatment increased the level of noradrenaline (NA) and MHPG in the locus coeruleus but not in the cerebellum, whereas only MHPG level was increased in the hypothalamus. Tramadol, however, increased the levels of MHPG and NA in the hippocampus, whereas desipramine only increased NA level. These data support the view that the noradrenergic system plays an important role in the antidepressant-like action of tramadol. Behavioural Pharmacology 18:623-631 (C) 2007 Wolters Kluwer Health vertical bar Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.