A lanthanide-based assay for ligand-receptor interactions provides an attractive alternative to the traditional radiolabeled determinations in terms of sensitivity, throughput, and biohazards. We designed and tested peptide ligands modified with an Eu-DTPA chelate. These labeled ligands were used in competitive binding assays with results comparable to those obtained using the traditional radiolabeled binding assays. The sensitivity of time-resolved fluorescence is sufficient to detect attomoles of europium, allowing assays in 96-well plates, compared with 30-mm dishes for (125)I binding assays to whole cells. We verified binding of Eu-DTPA-NDP-alpha-MSH to cells overexpressing the human melanocortin-4 receptor. The Eu-labeled ligand bound to these cells with an affinity similar to that of unlabeled NDP-alpha-MSH and was used to optimize a competitive binding assay. The lanthanide-based assays provided superior results with higher throughput and eliminated the need for radioactive waste disposal. This assay is appropriate for high-throughput screening of ligand libraries.