1. A sucrose-gap technique was used to investigate the neuromodulatory actions of enkephalins on non-adrenergic, non-cholinergic inhibitory junction potentials (IJPs) in the circular muscle of the human large intestine. 2. The native enkephalins, [Leu5]enkephalin (LENK) and [Met5]enkephalin (MENK) caused a concentration-dependent reduction in amplitude of IJPs without a significant effect on the smooth muscle membrane. 3. The actions of LENK and MENK were mimicked by the delta-selective opioid receptor agonists [D-Pen2, D-Pen5]enkephalin (DPDPE) and [D-Ala2, D-Leu5]enkephalin (DADLE). 4. The actions of LENK, MENK and DPDPE were antagonized to similar extents by the delta-selective opioid receptor antagonist ICI 174,864. 5. The mu-selective opioid receptor agonist [D-Ala2, Me Phe, Gly-ol5]enkephalin was approximately 100-fold less potent than any of the native or synthetic enkephalins at reducing the amplitude of the IJP. Dynorphin A and beta-endorphin both had very weak activity. 6. Responses to all of the agonists were inhibited by naloxone. The degree of antagonism of DPDPE or DADLE by naloxone (1 microM) was the same as that of LENK or MENK. 7. Neither MENK nor LENK affected hyperpolarization of the smooth muscle membrane induced by ATP or 5-hydroxytryptamine. Vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (1 pM-1 microM) did not produce any observable responses and this lack of reactivity was not affected by the enkephalins. 8. It is concluded that in the circular muscle of the human colon, LENK and MENK can act on prejunctional delta-opioid receptors to produce inhibition of non-adrenergic, non-cholinergic inhibitory neuromuscular transmission. Possible physiological significance of this prejunctional receptor is discussed.