The mechanism by which mu ligands inhibit the binding of prototypic delta agonists to preparations of brain membranes is controversial. Most investigators assume competitive inhibition. In this study, we examine the interaction of the mu agonist oxymorphone and delta agonist DSTLE (D-Ser2-Thr6-Leu-enkephalin) with [3H]D-Ala2-D-Leu5-enkephalin (DADL) binding to membranes of rat brain. According to the two-site competitive model, mu ligands are competitive inhibitors at both sites. The two-site allosteric model supposes that mu ligands are competitive inhibitors at one binding site, and noncompetitive inhibitors at the other binding site. Quantitative analysis of DSTLE and oxymorphone binding demonstrated that the two-site allosteric model fit the data significantly better than did the two-site competitive model, and that oxymorphone is a noncompetitive inhibitor of the lower affinity [3H]DADL-binding site. Autoradiographic studies demonstrated that the lower affinity [3H]DADL-binding site (mu-noncompetitive binding site) had an anatomical distribution apparently indistinguishable from that obtained with [3H]oxymorphone (type I pattern), supporting the hypothesis that the lower affinity delta-binding site is the delta-binding site of an opiate receptor complex consisting of interacting mu- and delta-binding sites.