The effects of opiate drugs (heroin, morphine, and methadone) on the levels of G protein-coupled receptor kinase 2 (GRK2) were studied in rat and human brain frontal cortices. The density of brain GRK2 was measured by immunoblot assays in acute and chronic opiate-treated rats as well as in opiate-dependent rats after spontaneous or naloxone-precipitated withdrawal and in human opiate addicts who had died of an opiate overdose. In postmortem brains from human addicts, total GRK2 immunoreactivity was not changed significantly, but the level of the membrane-associated kinase was modestly but significantly increased (12%) compared with matched controls. In rats treated chronically with morphine or methadone modest increases of the enzyme levels (only significant after methadone) were observed. Acute treatments with morphine and methadone induced dose- and time-dependent increases (8-22%) in total GRK2 concentrations [higher increases were observed for the membrane-associated enzyme (46%)]. Spontaneous and naloxone-precipitated withdrawal after chronic morphine or methadone induced a marked up-regulation in the levels of total GRK2 in the rat frontal cortex (18-25%). These results suggest that GRK2 is involved in the short-term regulation of mu-opioid receptors in vivo and that the activity of this regulatory kinase in brain could have a relevant role in opiate tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal.