Tramadol hydrochloride is a centrally acting synthetic analgesic in widespread clinical use. Despite different degrees of opioid-like characteristics in preclinical tests, it is characterized by lack of full naloxone reversibility or naloxone-precipitated withdrawal in humans. To investigate this apparent discrepancy, the present study measured the affinity of tramadol (and its enantiomers) and an active O-desmethyl metabolite (M1) (and its enantiomers) to cloned human opioid receptors of the mu, delta and kappa type stably expressed in HN9.10 neuroblastoma cells. At mu sites, the Ki values for tramadol, its (+) and (-) enantiomers, M1, and its (+) and (-) enantiomers were 17000, 15700, 28800, 3190, 153 and 9680 nM, respectively, compared to 7.1 nM for morphine. These results are consistent with the suggestion of a non-opioid contribution to the clinical profile of tramadol.