The effects of chronic treatment with naltrexone, an opioid receptor antagonist, on delta1- and delta2-opioid receptor agonist-induced antinociception and ligand binding were investigated in mice. Antinociception by intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) [D-Pen2,5]enkephalin (DPDPE) and [D-Ala2]deltorphin II, agonists selective for delta1- and delta2-opioid receptors, respectively, was blocked following subcutaneous (s.c.) implantation of a naltrexone pellet (7.5 mg) for 7 days. Removal of the naltrexone pellet was followed 24 h later by a decrease of 7.5-fold in the ED50 value of [D-Ala2]deltorphin II, but not that of DPDPE. In a whole brain homogenate the binding of [3H][D-Ala2]deltorphin II was increased twice as much as that of [3H]DPDPE. Chronic naltrexone treatment also produced an 8.6-fold decrease in the ED50 value of i.c.v. administered morphine. The increase in morphine potency was reversed to a control (placebo-treated mice) value by the selective delta2-opioid receptor antagonist, naltriben (25 pmol, i.c.v.). Thus, chronic naltrexone selectively increases delta2-opioid receptor-mediated antinociception, supporting the existence of delta opioid receptor subtypes with distinct adaptive characteristics. The data also indicate that delta2-opioid receptors are critically involved in the expression of morphine supersensitivity.