To directly compare the regulation of the cloned kappa and mu opioid receptor, we expressed them in the same cells, the mouse anterior pituitary cell line AtT-20. The coupling of an endogenous somatostatin receptor to adenylyl cyclase and an inward rectifier K+ current has been well characterized in these cells, enabling us to do parallel studies comparing the regulation of both the kappa and the mu receptor to this somatostatin receptor. We show that the kappa receptor readily uncoupled from the K+ current and from adenylyl cyclase after a 1 h pretreatment with agonist, as indicated by the loss in the ability of the agonist to induce a functional response. The desensitization of the kappa receptor was homologous, as the ability of somatostatin to mediate inhibition of adenylyl cyclase or potentiation of the K+ current was not altered by kappa receptor desensitization. The mu receptor uncoupled from the K+ current but not adenylyl cyclase after a 1 h pretreatment with agonist. Somatostatin was no longer able to potentiate the K+ current after mu receptor desensitization, thus this desensitization was heterologous. Interestingly, pretreatment with a somatostatin agonist caused uncoupling of the mu receptor but not the kappa receptor from the K+ current. These results show that in the same cell line, after a 1 h pretreatment with agonist, the kappa receptor displays homologous regulation, whereas the mu receptor undergoes only a heterologous form of desensitization. mu receptor desensitization may lead to the alterations of diverse downstream events, whereas kappa receptor regulation apparently occurs at the level of the receptor itself. Broad alterations of non-opioid systems by the mu receptor could be relevant to the addictive properties of mu agonists. Comparison of kappa and mu receptor regulation may help define the properties of the mu receptor which are important in the development of addiction, tolerance, and withdrawal to opioid drugs. These are the first studies to directly compare the coupling of the kappa and mu receptors to two different effectors in the same mammalian expression system.