This study assessed enkephalin expression induced by intra-articular application of recombinant, enkephalin-encoding herpes virus (HSV-1) and the impact of expression on nociceptive behaviours and synovial lining inflammation in arthritic rats. Replication-conditional HSV-1 recombinant vectors with cDNA encoding preproenkephalin (HSV-ENK), or control transgene β-galactosidase cDNA (HSV-β-gal; control) were injected into knee joints with complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA). Joint temperatures, circumferences and nociceptive behaviours were monitored on days 0, 7, 14 and 21 post CFA and vector treatments. Lumbar (L4–6) dorsal root ganglia (DRG) and spinal cords were immunostained for met-enkephalin (met-ENK), β-gal, HSV-1 proteins and Fos. Joint tissues were immunostained for met-ENK, HSV-1 proteins, and inflammatory mediators Regulated on Activation, Normal T-cell Expressed and Secreted (RANTES) and cyclo-oxygenase-2, or stained with haematoxylin and eosin for histopathology. Compared to exuberant synovial hypertrophy and inflammatory cell infiltration seen in arthritic rats treated with CFA only or CFA and HSV-β-gal, the CFA- and HSV-ENK-treated arthritic rats had: (i) striking preservation of synovial membrane cytoarchitecture with minimal inflammatory cell infiltrates; (ii) significantly improved nociceptive behavioural responses to mechanical and thermal stimuli; (iii) normalized Fos staining in lumbar dorsal horn; and (iv) significantly increased met-ENK staining in ipsilateral synovial tissue, lumbar DRG and spinal cord. The HSV-1 and transgene product expression were confined to ipsilateral lumbar DRG (HSV-1, met-ENK, β-gal). Only transgene product (met-ENK and β-gal) was seen in lumbar spinal cord sections. Targeted delivery of enkephalin-encoding HSV-1 vector generated safe, sustained opioid-induced analgesia with protective anti-inflammatory blunting in rat inflammatory arthritis.