The existence of receptors for opioid compounds on cells of the immune system has long been hypothesized, but has been very difficult to demonstrate unequivocally. We have used reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction to obtain cDNA clones from the human MOLT-4 and CEM-3 T-leukemic cell lines which are nearly identical to portions of the delta and kappa opioid receptor cDNAs recently isolated from human brain and placenta, respectively. Northern analyses with riboprobes derived from the delta and kappa opioid receptor clones indicate these sequences are expressed at low levels in human peripheral blood lymphocytes and in several human lymphoid cell lines. Sequences corresponding to the mu opioid receptor cDNA were not detected in this study. The results suggest that delta and kappa opioid receptors may be responsible for mediating some direct effects of opioids in immune cells.