Gi/Go proteins are uncoupled from receptors by ADP-ribosylation with pertussis toxin (PTX). However, PTX treatment of delta opioid receptor-containing NG108-15 cells reduces, but does not eliminate, opioid inhibition of adenylyl cyclase. The present study explored potential mechanisms of this residual inhibition. Overnight treatment of NG108-15 cells with 100 ng/ml PTX eliminated both PTX-catalyzed [adenylyl-32P]NAD+-labeling of G proteins and agonist stimulation of low Km GTPase in membranes. Although PTX-treatment decreased the maximal opioid inhibition of adenylyl cyclase by 50-65%, the inhibition that remained was concentration-dependent and antagonist-reversible. This inhibition persisted in the absence of GTP (even though opioid inhibition of adenylyl cyclase in untreated membranes was GTP-dependent), but was eliminated by hydrolysis-resistant guanine nucleotide analogs, indicating that G-proteins were still involved in the coupling mechanism. However, assays of agonist-stimulated [35S]GTPgammaS binding in the presence of excess GDP indicated that PTX pretreatment eliminated stimulation of guanine nucleotide exchange by opioid agonists. These results suggest that in membranes from PTX-treated NG108-15 cells, a subpopulation of G proteins may transduce an inhibitory signal from agonist-bound opioid receptors without involvement of guanine nucleotide exchange.