In order to obtain information on the possible functions of endogenous opiates in the primate cerebral cortex, we assessed the distribution of mu-like opiate receptors (which selectively bind 3H-labeled naloxone) and delta-like opiate receptors (which selectively bind 3H-labeled D-Ala2, D-Leu5-enkephalin) throughout the cerebral cortex of the rhesus monkey. Stereospecific [3H]naloxone binding sites increased in a gradient along hierarchically organized cortical systems that sequentially process modality-specific sensory information of a progressively more complex nature. Specific [3H]enkephalin binding sites, in contrast, were relatively evenly distributed throughout the cerebral cortex. These results, in combination with electrophysiological studies of monkeys and humans, suggest that mu-like opiate receptors may play a role in the affective filtering of sensory stimuli at the cortical level, that is, in emotion-induced selective attention.

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