The properties associated with ligand interactions with membrane-bound beta adrenergic receptors prepared from L6 myoblasts were examined at five temperatures between 10 degrees and 30 degrees C. The interactions of antagonists with membrane-bound receptors were insensitive to temperature, whereas the interactions of agonists were temperature-dependent. The affinity constants for the low-affinity binding states of agonists (KL) decreased slightly with decreasing assay temperature. The small temperature-dependent changes in KL values were similar to the changes in Kd values observed in studies of the binding of agonists in the presence of GTP. The high-affinity dissociation constants (KH) for binding of full agonists to membrane-bound receptors in the absence of GTP were approximately 50-fold lower at 10 degrees than at 30 degrees C. The KH values for partial agonists also decreased with decreasing temperature, but the changes were smaller in magnitude. Thermodynamically, the binding of antagonists was primarily entropy-driven, whereas the binding of agonists was enthalpy-driven. The energetics of the low-affinity component of agonist binding to membrane-bound receptors were similar to the energetics for binding of agonists to membrane-bound receptors in the presence of GTP. Under these conditions, standard enthalpy change (delta H degree) and standard entropy change (delta S degree) values for binding of agonists were more negative than the corresponding values for binding of antagonists, possibly reflecting a conformational change in the receptor or an increased ordering of the lipids surrounding the receptor. The interaction of the receptor with the guanine nucleotide-binding protein to form the high-affinity component of agonist binding was thermodynamically described by larger negative changes in enthalpy and entropy than the values for formation of the low-affinity component of agonist binding. There was a correlation between the efficacies of ligands in activating adenylate cyclase and the delta H degree and delta S degree values for high-affinity binding of agonists. Thus, the extent or nature of the interaction between the guanine nucleotide-binding protein and the receptor may determine the efficacies of ligands.