Inoculation of the tail base of rats with Mycobacterium butyricum led to an arthritic swelling and inflammation of the limbs which displayed a hyperalgesia to noxious pressure: these effects peaked at 3 weeks postinoculation. In vitro autoradiography of coronal sections of rat brain was used for a parallel determination of binding to mu-, delta- and kappa-opioid binding sites. In only two regions, the dorsomedial and dorsolateral parts of the periaqueductal grey (PAG), was a significant change seen: this comprised an increase in binding to kappa-sites, whereas mu- and delta-sites therein were unaffected. This region was analysed for opioid peptides derived from each of the three opioid peptide families known. While no change was seen in levels of immunoreactive (ir)-dynorphin1-17 A (DYN) and ir-Met-enkephalin, a decrease was detected in those of ir-beta-endorphin (beta-EP): this change was restricted to the PAG. These data demonstrate a highly localized and selective influence of chronic arthritic pain upon multiple opioid systems in the PAG of the rat, a structure playing a key role in the control of pain and in the expression of the antinociceptive actions of opioids. The data suggest a possible significance of PAG pools of beta-EP and kappa-receptors in the response to and modulation of chronic pain.