If stably expressed in human embryonic kidney (HEK)293 cells, the human Mel(1a)-melatonin receptor activates G(i)-dependent, pertussis toxin-sensitive signaling pathways, i.e., inhibition of adenylyl cyclase and stimulation of phospholipase Cbeta; the latter on condition that G(q) is coactivated. The antagonist luzindole blocks the effects of melatonin and acts as an inverse agonist at the Mel(1a) receptor in both intact cells and isolated membranes. This suggests that the Mel(1a) receptor is endowed with constitutive activity, a finding confirmed on reconstitution of the Mel(1a) receptor with G(i). Because the receptor density is in the physiological range, constitutive activity is not an artifact arising from overexpression of the receptor. In addition, the following findings indicate that the Mel(1a) receptor forms a very tight complex with G(i) which can be observed both in the presence and absence of an agonist. 1) In intact cells and in membranes, high-affinity agonist binding is resistant to the destabilizing effect of guanine nucleotides. 2) The ability to bind an agonist with high affinity is preserved even after exposure of the cells to pertussis toxin, because a fraction of G(i) is inaccessible to the toxin in cells expressing Mel(1a) receptors (but not the A(1)-adenosine receptor, another G(i)-coupled receptor). 3) An antiserum directed against the Mel(1a) receptor coprecipitates G(i) even in the absence of an agonist. We therefore conclude that the Mel(1a) receptor is tightly precoupled and that its constitutive activity may play a role in pacing the biological clock, an action known to involve the melatonin receptors in the suprachiasmatic nucleus.