The recently discovered fourth member of the opioid receptor family, the nociceptin receptor (NOP) and its endogenous ligand, the heptadecaptide nociceptin, are involved in several central nervous system pathways, such as nociception, reward, tolerance, and feeding. The discovery of small-molecule ligands for NOP is being actively pursued for several therapeutic applications. This review presents a brief overview of the several recently reported NOP ligands, classified as NOP agonists and antagonists, with an emphasis on the analysis of the structural features that may be important for modulating the agonist/antagonist profile (intrinsic activity) of these ligands. Structure-activity relationships in our own series of dihydroindolinone-based NOP ligands and those of the various reported ligands indicate that the lipophilic substituent on the common basic nitrogen present in all NOP ligands plays a role in determining the agonist/antagonist profile of the NOP ligand. This analysis provides a basis for the rational drug design of NOP ligands of desired intrinsic activity and provides a framework for developing pharmacophore models for high affinity binding and intrinsic activity at the NOP receptor. Since NOP agonists and antagonists both have therapeutic value, rational approaches for obtaining both within a high-affinity binding class of compounds are very useful for designing potent and selective NOP ligands with the desired profile of intrinsic efficacy.