The effects of MgCl2 on the binding of tritiated ligands to opioid binding sites in homogenates of guinea-pig brain in HEPES buffer have been studied. The binding of tritiated mu-, delta-, and kappa-opioid agonists was promoted in a concentration-dependent manner over a range of MgCl2 concentrations from 0.1 mM to 10 mM, as was binding of the nonselective antagonists [3H]diprenorphine and [3H]naloxone. At concentrations of MgCl2 above 10 mM reversal of this effect was observed. The effects of MgCl2 on binding parameters differed at each site. The promoting effects of MgCl2 were mimicked by MnCl2, CaCl2, and MgSO4, but CoCl2 and ZnCl2 were inhibitory. Following treatment of guinea-pig brain synaptosomes at pH 11.5 to eliminate G proteins, the binding of the mu-opioid agonist [3H][D-Ala2, MePhe4, Gly-ol5]enkephalin and [3H]naloxone was much reduced but binding of [3H]diprenorphine was unaffected. Under these conditions MgCl2 still promoted binding of [3H]diprenorphine. The results suggest that Mg2+ ions promote binding by an action at the opioid receptor, even in the absence of G protein, and that opioid antagonists may differ in their recognition of opioid receptor binding sites.