Estrogens modulate the density of opioid receptors in selected brain areas; however, it is not clear whether they exert such an effect directly on the cells which express the opioid receptors. Therefore, we analyzed the binding of [<sup>3</sup>H]-diprenorphine in human neuroblastoma cells stably transfected with the estrogen receptor cDNA (SK-ER3 cell line). A 16-hour exposure of these cells with 1 nM 17β-estradiol induces a progressive morphological differentiation which appears clearly established 6 days after the suspension of the treatment. The binding of [<sup>3</sup>H]-diprenorphine was then measured immediately after the exposure to 17β-estradiol (16 h) as well as 6 days later. The results shows that the number of opioid receptors in SK-ER3 cells is unaffected at 16 h but appears significantly reduced at 6 days. This effect is blocked by the estrogen antagonist ICI-182780, and is coincident to a decrease of the inhibitory effect of morphine on cyclic AMP accumulation. Binding experiments performed using selective ligands suggest that the µ subclass of opioid receptors is down-regulated by estradiol in SK-ER3 cells.