The receptor binding of the kappa agonist [3H]ethylketocyclazocine to brain homogenates in vitro and ketocyclazocine (kappa) analgesia in vivo has been investigated and compared to morphine, a mu agonist. Saturation analysis of [3H]ethylketocyclazocine binding in both mice and rats yielded biphasic Scatchard plots similar to those of opiate mu agonists, antagonists, enkephalins, and endorphins. Treatment of brain membranes with monovalent and divalent cation, chelating agents, protein-modifying reagents, and enzymes affected [3H]ethylketocyclazocine binding in a manner similar to that of [3H]morphine. Naloxazone, a long-acting antagonist that selectively abolished high-affinity [3H-DAla2,Met5]enkephalinamide binding in vivo, also selectively blocked high-affinity [3H]ethylketocyclazocine binding. Evaluation of analgesia with writhing and tail-flick assays in animals whose high-affinity binding sites were blocked by naloxazone demonstrated a 6- to 7-fold increase in median effective dose (ED50) values of ketocyclazocine. This decrease in analgesic potency was comparable to morphine's decreased potency in similarly treated mice. These biochemical and pharmacological results suggest that the analgesic properties of both kappa and mu agonists may be mediated through the same subpopulation of receptors, the high-affinity binding sites.