1. G-protein coupled receptors can exhibit constitutive activity resulting in the formation of active ternary complexes in the absence of an agonist. In this study we have investigated constitutive activity in C6 glioma cells expressing either the cloned delta-(OP1) receptor (C6delta), or the cloned mu-(OP3) opioid receptor (C6mu). 2. Constitutive activity was measured in the absence of Na+ ions to provide an increased signal. The degree of constitutive activity was defined as the level of [35S]-GTPgammaS binding that could be inhibited by pre-treatment with pertussis toxin (PTX). In C6delta cells the level of basal [35S]-GTPgammaS binding was reduced by 51.9+/-6.1 fmols mg-1 protein, whereas in C6mu; and C6 wild-type cells treatment with PTX reduced basal [35S]-GTPgammaS binding by only 10.0+/-3.5 and 8.6+/-3.1 fmols mg-1 protein respectively. 3. The delta-antagonists N, N-diallyl-Tyr-Aib-Aib-Phe-Leu-OH (ICI 174,864), 7-benzylidenenaltrexone (BNTX) and naltriben (NTB), in addition to clocinnamox (C-CAM), acted as delta-opioid receptor inverse agonists. Naloxone, buprenorphine, and naltrindole were neutral antagonists. Furthermore, naltrindole blocked the reduction in [35S]-GTPgammaS binding caused by the inverse agonists. The inverse agonists did not inhibit basal [35S]-GTPgammaS binding in C6mu; or C6 wild-type cell membranes. 4. Competition binding assays in C6delta cell membranes revealed a leftward shift in the displacement curve of [3H]-naltrindole by ICI 174,864 and C-CAM in the presence of NaCl and the GTP analogue, GppNHp. There was no change in the displacement curve for BNTX or NTB under these conditions. 5. These data confirm the presence of constitutive activity associated with the delta-opioid receptor and identify three novel, non-peptide, delta-opioid inverse agonists.