The present investigation was aimed at elucidating if chronic activation of mu opioid receptor induces development of tolerance to mu (specific tolerance) and kappa agonists (cross-tolerance) in the guinea pig ileum myenteric plexus-longitudinal muscle strip. Morphine (prototype of mu agonist), [D-Ala2,N-MePhe4,Gly-ol5]enkephalin (DAMGO) and sufentanil (selective mu-agonists) and U-50,488H (selective kappa agonist) were selected. Tolerance to morphine was induced by subcutaneous implantation of morphine pellets (75 mg per pellet) for 7 days. Tolerance to sufentanil was induced by subcutaneous implantation of osmotic minipumps for 7 days, which deliver at a rate of 2 micrograms/microliters/hr. Control groups received placebo pellets or minipumps of vehicle. Tolerance to morphine and DAMGO was observed after chronic treatment with morphine or sufentanil and was revealed as a rightward shift of the concentration-response curve. In addition, a decrease in maximal response was observed. Preparations from morphine-pelleted guinea pigs were also tolerant to the kappa-selective agonist trans-(+-)-3,4-dichloro-N-methyl-N-[2-(1-pyrrolidynyl)- cyclohexyl]benzeneacetamide (U-50,488H); that is, there was cross-tolerance to the kappa agonist. The development of tolerance to U-50,488H was characterized by a parallel rightward shift of the concentration-response curve, but the maximal response was unchanged. Sufentanil-tolerant tissues were also tolerant to the inhibitory effects of U-50,488H (cross-tolerance). These data indicate that alterations occur during chronic mu opioid administration that are not receptor specific and suggest that tolerance would be associated with a functional change in the myenteric neurons that is unrelated to individual receptor system.