The tissue distribution and function of opioid peptides in humans is incompletely defined. We report here that, unlike that in other species, the human anterior pituitary gland contains high concentrations of methionine-enkephalin (met-enkephalin). The met-enkephalin immunoreactive material was isolated and identified as authentic met-enkephalin by fast atom bombardment-mass spectrometry and Edman degradation sequencing. The met-enkephalin was localized in a large subpopulation of TSH immunoreactive cells (thyrotrophs). No other proenkephalin-derived opioid peptides were found in the pituitary, and there was no overlap between proopiomelanocortin and met-enkephalin immunoreactive cells. These results suggest that the human anterior pituitary gland contains a novel met-enkephalin precursor and a possible role for met-enkephalin in regulating human thyroid function.