The benzodiazepine receptor inverse agonist 6,7-dimethoxy-4-ethyl-3-carbomethoxy-β-carboline (DMCM) (1.5-15 mg/kg) was administered to mice 5 after a lethal (LD94) injection of pentobarbital. DMCM (1.5-5 mg/kg) increased short-term (1 h) survival in a dose-dependent fashion, with an optimum survival rate more than five times greater than mice receiving pentobarbital alone. Statistically significant increases in long-term (24 h) survial were also observed after both 5 and 10 mg/kg of DMCM (34 and 33%, respectively) compared with animals receiving pentobarbital alone (6%). Two doses of DMCM (5 and 2.5 mg/kg, respectively) administered 55 min apart produced an even greater increase (58%) in 24-h survival rates. Doses of DMCM that increased 1- and 24-h survival were not lethal when administered alone, and were below the dose that produced convulsions in 50% (CD50) of the animals. The protective effects of DMCM were blocked by pretreatment with the benzodiazepine receptor antagonist ethyl-8-fluoro-5,6-dihydro-5-methyl-6-oxo-4H-imidazo[1,5a][1 ,4]benzodiazodiazepine-3-carboxylate (Ro 15-1788), which suggests the effects of DMCM are mediated through the benzodiazepine receptor. These findings suggest that DMCM or another benzodiazepine receptor ligand with full inverse agonist qualities could prove effective as an antidote for barbiturate intoxication in man.