The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of a morphine-conjugate vaccine (M-KLH) on the acquisition, maintenance, and reinstatement of heroin self-administration (HSA) in rats, and on heroin and metabolite distribution during heroin administration that approximated the self-administered dosing rate. Vaccination with M-KLH blocked heroin-primed reinstatement of heroin responding. Vaccination also decreased HSA at low heroin unit doses but produced a compensatory increase in heroin self-administration at high unit doses. Vaccination shifted the heroin dose-response curve to the right, indicating reduced heroin potency, and behavioral economic demand curve analysis further confirmed this effect. In a separate experiment heroin was administered at rates simulating heroin exposure during HSA. Heroin and its active metabolites, 6-acetylmorphine (6-AM) and morphine, were retained in plasma and metabolite concentrations were reduced in brain in vaccinated rats compared to controls. Reductions in 6-AM concentrations in brain after vaccination were consistent with the changes in HSA rates accompanying vaccination. These data provide evidence that 6-AM is the principal mediator of heroin reinforcement, and the principal target of the M-KLH vaccine, in this model. While heroin vaccines may have potential as therapies for heroin addiction, high antibody to drug ratios appear to be important for obtaining maximal efficacy.