Distribution of the binding sites for [3H]diprenorphine, a non-selective opiate ligand, was studied in membrane fractions from longitudinal muscle/myenteric plexus and circular muscle containing deep muscular plexus. [3H]saxitoxin was used as a marker for neuronal plasma membranes and 5'-nucleotidase as a marker for smooth muscle plasma membranes. Saxitoxin binding correlated strongly with diprenorphine binding, but 5'-nucleotidase correlated poorly with diprenorphine or saxitoxin binding in these fractions. Opiate binding sites in membranes of myenteric and deep muscular plexus were of high affinity (Kd = 0.12 and 0.18 nM, respectively) with maximum binding capacity of 400 and 500 fmol/mg protein, respectively. Competition experiments using subtype-selective opiate ligands indicated that all three subtypes of opiate receptors were present in the same ratio of 40-45% mu-subtypes, 40-45% delta-subtypes, and 10-15% kappa-subtypes on both plexuses. Opiate receptors of canine small intestine, therefore, are located primarily or exclusively on nerves with similar distributions in nerve membranes containing only axonal varicosities (deep muscular plexus) as in those containing neurons, dendrites, and varicosities (myenteric plexus).