Mu opioid receptors play an important role in mediating the actions of a class of opioids including morphine and heroin. Binding and pharmacological studies have proposed several mu opioid receptor subtypes: mu(1), mu(2), and morphine-6beta-glucuronide (M6G). The cloning of a mu opioid receptor, MOR-1, has provided an invaluable tool to explore pharmacological and physiological functions of mu opioid receptors at the molecular level. However, only one mu opioid receptor (Oprm) gene has been isolated. Alternative pre-mRNA splicing has been proposed as a molecular explanation for the existence of pharmacologically identified subtypes. In recent years, we have extensively investigated alternative splicing of the Oprm gene, particularly of the mouse Oprm gene. So far we have identified 25 splice variants from the mouse Oprm gene, which are controlled by two diverse promoters, eight splice variants from the rat Oprm gene, and 11 splice variants from the human Oprm gene. Diversity and complexity of the Oprm gene was further demonstrated by functional differences in agonist-induced G protein activation, adenylyl cyclase activity, and receptor internalization among carboxyl terminal variants. This review summarizes these recent results and provides a new perspective on understanding and exploring complex opioid actions in animals and humans.