Adenylyl cyclase activity was measured following labelling of the cellular ATP pool with [3H]adenine in intact Rat-1 fibroblasts that had been stably transfected to express the murine delta-opioid receptor (clone D2). Basal [3H]cyclic AMP accumulation was low and was increased substantially by the addition of the diterpene forskolin. The synthetic enkephalin D-Ala2,D-Leu5 enkephalin (DADLE) produced strong inhibition of forskolin-amplified [3H]cyclic AMP production, whereas the delta-opioid ligand ICI174864 augmented forskolin-amplified adenylyl cyclase activity. Naloxone was unable to mimic the effects of ICI174864, and coincubation of the cells with these two ligands attenuated the effect of ICI174864. The EC50 (9.4 +/- 0.6 x 10(-8) M) for ICI174864 augmentation of forskolin-stimulated adenylyl cyclase was equal to its estimated Ki. Pertussis toxin pretreatment of clone D2 cells prevented both this effect of ICI174864 and the inhibition produced by DADLE. Use of a Cytosensor microphysiometer demonstrated that treatment of clone D2 cells with DADLE increased and that with ICI174864 decreased the basal rate of cellular proton extrusion. By using these two distinct experimental strategies, ICI174864 was shown to function in a manner anticipated for an inverse agonist, demonstrating that such effects can be observed in intact cells and are not restricted to assays performed on membrane preparations.