To examine whether the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascade and phospholipase A2 (PLA2) are involved in the signal transduction mechanism of the opioid receptor, the delta-, mu-, and kappa-opioid receptors were stably expressed from cDNA in Chinese hamster ovary cells. Activation of the delta-, mu-, and kappa-receptors by agonists induced a rapid and transient increase in MAPK activity accompanied by reduced electrophoretic mobility of the 42-kDa isoform of MAPK (p42), probably owing to phosphorylation. The opioid receptor-mediated increase in MAPK activity was suppressed not only by pretreatment with genistein, a tyrosine protein kinase inhibitor, but also by prolonged exposure to phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate and pretreatment with GF 109203X, a selective protein kinase C (PKC) inhibitor, suggesting the involvement of PKC as well as tyrosine protein kinase. Furthermore, stimulation of the delta-, mu-, and kappa-receptors with opioid agonists in the presence of A23187, a calcium ionophore, resulted in an increase in arachidonate release, suggesting that PLA2 is activated by the opioid receptors when the intracellular Ca2+ concentration is elevated. Both MAPK activation and increase in arachidonate release mediated by the opioid receptors were abolished by pretreatment with pertussis toxin, suggesting that these responses are mediated by Gi or Go types of GTP-binding regulatory proteins.