Structural elements of the rat mu-opioid receptor important in ligand receptor binding and selectivity were examined using a site-directed mutagenesis approach. Five single amino acid mutations were made, three that altered conserved residues in the mu, delta, and kappa receptors (Asn150 to Ala, His297 to Ala, and Tyr326 to Phe) and two designed to test for mu/delta selectivity (Ile196 to Val and Val202 to Ile). Mutation of His297 in transmembrane domain 6 (TM6) resulted in no detectable binding with [3H]DAMGO (3H-labeled D-Ala2, N-Me-Phe4, Gly-ol5-enkephalin), [3H]bremazocine, or [3H]ethylketocyclazocine. Mutation of Asn150 in TM3 produces a three- to 20-fold increase in affinity for the opioid agonists morphine, DAMGO, fentanyl, beta-endorphin1-31, JOM-13, deltorphin II, dynorphin1-13, and U50,488, with no change in the binding of antagonists such as naloxone, naltrexone, naltrindole, and nor-binaltorphamine. In contrast, the Tyr326 mutation in TM7 resulted in a decreased affinity for a wide spectrum of mu, delta, and kappa agonists and antagonists. Altering Val202 to Ile in TM4 produced no change on ligand affinity, but Ile196 to Val resulted in a four- to fivefold decreased affinity for the mu agonists morphine and DAMGO, with no change in the binding affinities of kappa and delta ligands.