By using a rat kappa opioid receptor cDNA as a probe to screen a human brain cDNA library, we isolated a 4.0-kb clone (z115) which encompasses a major portion of a human kappa opioid receptor (hkor), extending from the amino acid residue #6 to the 3'-untranslated region. The extreme 5'-region 232-bp fragment of z115 was used as a probe to screen a human genomic DNA library. A 1.6-kb fragment (d2) of one positive clone was found to extend from 5'-untranslated region to beyond the exon/intron junction at residue Arg86. The genomic DNA fragment d2 and the cDNA clone z115 were assembled to generate a clone (d2-z115) containing the entire coding sequence of hkor. Clone d2-z115 has an open reading frame of 1140 bp, which encodes for a 380-amino acid protein. The deduced amino acid sequence has 93.9% and 93.2% identity to rat and mouse kappa receptors, respectively. It also displays approximately 60% identity to both human mu and delta receptors. Northern blot analysis showed that in the human brain there was a single hkor mRNA transcript of 6.0 kb. Among brain regions examined, the amygdala, caudate nucleus, hypothalamus and subthalamic nucleus contained high levels of hkor mRNA. Hkor was cloned into the expression vector pBK-CMV and transiently expressed in COS-1 cells. Hkor had high affinity for [3H] diprenorphine, a nonselective opioid antagonist, and displayed stereospecific binding to naloxone. kappa selective ligands (U50,488H and nor-BNI) had high affinities, whereas mu and delta selective ligands bound with much lower affinities. Dynorphin A (1-17) and alpha-neoendorphin, both endogenous kappa peptides, bound with high affinities. These binding characteristics confirmed that hkor is a kappa receptor, most likely kappa 1 type. Cloning of the human kappa receptor allows investigation of interactions of compounds with the human receptor, instead of rodent receptors, for development of better therapeutic agents.