A large number of G-protein coupled receptors are known to modulate adenylyl cyclase activity. In order to find new compounds modulating the activity of specific receptor subtypes we developed a cellular screening system that measures the biological activity of drugs acting on receptors rather than merely their binding characteristics. The activity of the receptor coupling to the cAMP signal transduction pathway was measured via transcriptional activation of a reporter gene. A chinese hamster ovary cell line was stably transformed with a reporter plasmid containing the firefly luciferase gene under the transcriptional control of multiple cAMP responsive elements (CRE). This CRE reporter cell line exhibited 20 to 30-fold induction of luciferase activity upon stimulation of adenylyl cyclase with forskolin, but did not respond to dopamine agonists. Stable test cell lines were developed by transfecting reporter cell lines with human dopamine D1 and D5 receptor genes, respectively. Treatment of these test cell lines with dopamine receptor agonists and antagonists modulated the luciferase expression in a dose-dependent manner. The rank of potency of dopamine receptor agonists and antagonists was in agreement with reported data obtained from binding studies. The non-isotopic assay can be performed in microtiter plate format and is far less work intensive than the determination of adenylyl cyclase activity by direct cAMP measurement. This technology could also be utilized for discovery of new classes of compounds, e.g. allosteric effectors or non competitive ligands.