The endogenous opioids and their receptors are known to play a major role in neoplasia. In the present study, naltrexone (NTX), a potent opioid antagonist, was utilized to explore the interactions of opioids and opioid receptors in mice with transplanted neuroblastoma (S20Y). Tumors from mice subjected to either intermittent (4-6h/day; 0.1 mg/kg NTX) or complete (24 h/day; 10 mg/kg NTX) opioid receptor blockade exhibited an up-regulation of DADLE and Met-enkephalin binding sites, as well as tissue levels of beta-endorphin and Met-enkephalin. Binding affinity to [D-Ala2,D-Leu5]enkephalin (DADLE) or ethylketocyclazocine (EKC), the levels of plasma beta-endorphin, and the anatomical location and quantity of Met- and Leu-enkephalin and cytoskeletal components (i.e. tubulin, actin, brain spectrin (240/235) were similar in NTX and control tumor-bearing animals. Tissue viability of the 0.1 NTX group was increased compared to controls. Both mitotic and labeling indexes were increased during the period of opioid receptor blockade, but decreased in the period subsequent to receptor blockade. NTX treatment produced a 2-fold increased in sensitivity to opioids. Met-enkephalin (10 mg/kg) produced a depression in both mitotic and labeling indexes in tumor-bearing mice that could be reversed by naloxone (10 mg/kg) administration. Thus, the endogenous opioids are trophic agents that inhibit growth by suppressing cell proliferation. The duration of receptor blockade by opioid antagonists modulates these actions, affecting both tumor incidence and survival time. Complete opioid receptor block prevents the interaction of increased levels of putative growth-related peptides with a greater number of opioid receptors, thereby increasing cell proliferation and accelerating tumor growth. With intermittent blockade, an enhanced opioid-receptor interaction occurs during the interval when the opioid antagonist is no longer present, producing an exaggerated inhibitory action on cell proliferation and the repression of tumorigenic events.