Purified T lymphocytes have a specific binding site for naloxone, the opiate antagonist. The KD for the site was 50.6 +/- 2.4 nM, while the Hill coefficient (n) was 1.67 +/- 0.16, indicating a degree of positive cooperativity of ligand binding. The bound naloxone was partially displaceable by various opiate agonists including morphine (56%), beta-endorphin (61%), met5- and leu5-enkephalin (40% each), [D-ala2, D-leu5]-enkephalin (78%) and [D-ala2, D-leu5]-enkephalinamide (66%). Virtually all of the binding capacity was recovered in the particulate membrane fraction after sonic lysis of the cells. There was great interindividual variability in Bmax between samples, suggesting a possible mechanistic basis for the variability in drug action seen between different individuals.