Regulation of [125I]beta h-endorphin binding by guanine nucleotides was investigated in membrane preparations from two opioid receptor-containing cell lines: NG108-15, which contains only delta opioid receptors, and SK-N-SH, which contains predominantly mu opioid receptors. In contrast to the binding of the delta-selective agonist [3H][D-penicillamine2,D-penicillamine5]enkephalin to NG108-15 cell membranes, and of the mu-selective agonist [3H][D-Ala2,MePhe4,Gly-ol5]enkephalin to SK-N-SH cell membranes, [125I]beta h-endorphin binding to NG108-15 and SK-N-SH cell membranes was not altered by guanosine triphosphate (GTP) or guanylyl-5'-imidodiphosphate (Gpp(NH)p) in the absence of cations. However, in the presence of NaCl, [125I]beta h-endorphin binding to both cell lines was inhibited by GTP and Gpp(NH)p in a concentration-dependent manner. In SK-N-SH cell membranes, the ability of sodium to promote regulation of [125I]beta h-endorphin binding by GTP was mimicked by the monovalent cations lithium and potassium, but not by the divalent cations magnesium, calcium, or manganese. In NG108-15 cell membranes, only sodium was effective in promoting inhibition of [125I]beta h-endorphin binding by GTP. The effect of GTP or Gpp(NH)p in the presence of sodium was also observed with guanosine diphosphate, but not guanosine monophosphate or any of the non-guanine nucleotides tested. These results indicate that the presence of monovalent cations is required for regulation of [125I]beta h-endorphin binding by guanine nucleotides, and that the specificity of this cation requirement differs between the mu and delta receptor-containing cell lines.