The mu opioid receptor plays an important role in mediating the actions of morphine and morphine-like drugs. Receptor binding and a wide range of pharmacological studies have proposed several mu receptor subtypes, but only one mu opioid receptor (Oprm) gene has been isolated. Like the mouse and rat, the human Oprm gene undergoes alternative splicing. In the present studies, we have identified and characterized six new splice variants from the human Oprm gene using a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction strategy, yielding a total of 10 human splice variants of the mu opioid receptor MOR-1. All the variants identified contained exons 1, 2 and 3, but differed from MOR-1 itself and each other by splicing downstream from exon 3, resulting in different amino acid sequences. Northern blot analysis demonstrated expression of the variant mRNAs. Receptor binding assays established that these variants belonged to the mu opioid receptor family with limited differences in mu opioid ligand affinities and selectivity. However, adenylyl cyclase and [35S]GTPgammaS binding assays revealed major differences in both potency and efficacy among these variants. The dissociation between binding affinity, potency and efficacy for the opioids among these variants may provide insights into the wide range of opioid responses among these agents observed clinically and opens new avenues in designing selective drugs based upon their efficacy and potency rather simple binding affinity.