Recent pharmacological data strongly support the hypothesis of delta receptor subtypes as mediators of both supraspinal and spinal antinociception (delta 1 and delta 2 receptors). In vitro ligand binding data, which are fully supportive of the in vivo data, are still lacking. A previous study indicated that [3H][D-Ala2,D-Leu5]enkephalin labels two binding sites in membranes depleted of mu binding sites by pretreatment with the site-directed acylating agent, 2-(p-ethoxybenzyl)-1-diethylaminoethyl-5-isothiocyanatobenzimid azole-HCI (BIT). The main goal of the present study was to develop a ligand-selectivity profile of the two delta ncx binding sites. The data indicated that naltrindole and oxymorphindole were relatively selective for site 1 (20-fold). [D-Ser2,Thr6]Enkephalin and deltorphin-II were only 2.7-fold and 2.2-fold selective for site 1. [D-Pen2,D-Pen5]Enkephalin and deltorphin-I were 80-fold and 38-fold selective for site 2. 3-Iodo-Tyr-D-Ala-Gly-Phe-D-Leu was 52-fold selective for site 1. Morphine had moderate affinity for site 1 (Ki = 16 nM), and was about 11-fold selective for site 1. Thus, of the 10 drugs studied, only DPDPE and DELT-I were selective for site 2. Viewed collectively with other data, it is likely that the delta 1 receptor and the delta ncx binding site are synonymous.