Morphine injected s.c. in the tail is a potent analgesic in the tail-flick assay when the radiant heat source is focused directly over the injection site (ED50, 4.5 micrograms), but not if the radiant heat source is moved 1 cm proximally or distally to the injection site. Naloxone given systemically reverses this peripheral analgesia. Antisense oligodeoxynucleotides directed against exons 1 and 4 of MOR-1, a cloned mu opioid receptor, administered intrathecally (i.t.) block the local analgesic effect of morphine in the tail, indicating that the local response is mediated through mu receptors located on the terminals of sensory neurons from the dorsal root ganglia. Combinations of morphine given locally in the tail and spinally (i.t.) are synergistic. Spinal morphine also synergizes with systemic morphine in analgesia assays. Supraspinal morphine enhances systemic morphine analgesia, but less dramatically. We also examined tolerance on these analgesic systems by using a daily morphine injection paradigm which shifts the dose-response curve for systemic morphine approximately 2-fold after 5 days. In this paradigm, morphine's analgesic potency after either supraspinal or spinal administration alone does not change. However, the dose-response curve for local morphine in the tail is shifted by over 19-fold. The analgesic activity of the combination of supraspinal and systemic morphine is lowered approximately 2-fold and the combination of i.t. and systemic morphine by 12-fold. These studies confirm the presence of a peripheral mechanism for morphine analgesia mediated by mu receptors located on sensory neurons from the dorsal root ganglia, which is extremely sensitive to chronic morphine dosing.