Activator protein 1 (AP-1) and nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kappa B) represent mammalian transcription factors which bind to distinct enhancer motifs. The specific mu-receptor opioid agonist, Tyr, D-Ala2, Gly, N-Me-Phe4, Gly-ol5 (DAMGO), was found to increase AP-1 and NF-kappa B activity in primary cultures of neurons from rat cerebral cortex. Acute (2 h, 4 h) and long-term (72 h) treatment with DAMGO time-dependently increased the DNA-binding activity of both AP-1 and NF-kappa B and the stimulation could be abolished or inhibited by concurrent incubation with naloxone. However, acute naloxone-precipitated withdrawal did not significantly change AP-1 or NF-kappa B activity. These results indicate a mu-opioid receptor-related co-induction of AP-1 and NF-kappa B transcription factors in cultured cortical neurons.