In vitro competition studies with rat brain were performed to systematically define the characteristics of the [3H]U-69,593 binding site and of the site selectively labeled by [3H]EKC (in the presence of U-69,593 and mu and delta blocking agents). The [3H]U-69,593 site has a binding selectivity profile that corresponds to that of the kappa opiate receptor. That is, all kappa compounds, regardless of chemical class, and dynorphin A, the putative endogenous ligand for kappa receptors, bind to the site with high affinities, whereas mu and delta ligands and nonopiate compounds do not. The agonists U-69,593, ICI 197,067 and U-50,488 and antagonist nor-binaltorphimine were found to have a useful degree of selectivity for the site. The [3H]EKC site has opiate receptor characteristics and appears to be the most abundant opiate receptor in rat brain, but its binding selectivity profile is not that of a kappa receptor. Instead, this non-mu, non-delta, non-kappa site has the pharmacological properties that correspond to those of the beta-endorphin-specific, epsilon receptor that has been hypothesized to exist for some time. We could not identify any compound that is selective for the putative epsilon site. Of the more than 50 compounds tested, all were either equally potent at the [3H]U-69,593 and [3H]EKC sites or were more potent at the [3H]U-69,593 site.