The present article investigates chronic opioid regulation of the stimulatory adenylate cyclase-coupled prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) receptor system in neuroblastoma x glioma (NG108-15) hybrid cells. Persistent activation of delta-opioid receptors by morphine (10 mumol/L; 3 days) substantially down-regulates the number of PGE1 binding sites by approximately 30%, without affecting their affinity. Radioligand binding studies performed in the presence of GTP gamma S (100 mumol/L) further revealed that the remaining PGE1 binding sites are still capable of interacting functionally with their associated stimulatory G proteins, Gs. On the postreceptor level, neither changes in the abundance nor in the intrinsic activity of the alpha subunit of Gs (Gs alpha) were found during the state of opioid dependence, as has been verified by western blot and S49 cyc- reconstitution experiments, respectively. Evaluation of the functional interaction between PGE1 receptors and Gs by means of receptor-stimulated, cholera toxin-catalyzed ADP-ribosylation of Gs alpha revealed a significant increase in the ability of PGE1 receptors to activate Gs alpha (3.3-fold increase in EC50; p < 0.05) in cells chronically exposed to morphine. This effect was completely blocked by coincubation of the cells together with the opiate antagonist naloxone (100 mumol/L; 3 days), whereas precipitation of morphine withdrawal by naloxone (100 mumol/L) had no further effect on sensitization in PGE1 receptor/Gs coupling. These findings provide evidence that the stimulatory adenylate cyclase-coupled PGE1 receptor system represents a potential target of chronic delta-opioid receptor activation in NG108-15 hybrid cells. They further suggest that sensitization in stimulatory signal transduction plays a critical role in the generation of opioid dependence.