Serotonin 5-HT1A receptors are promising targets in the management of schizophrenia but little information exists about affinity and efficacy of novel antipsychotics at these sites. We addressed this issue by comparing binding affinity at 5-HT1A receptors with dopamine rD2 receptors, which are important targets for antipsychotic drug action. Agonist efficacy at 5-HT1A receptors was determined for G-protein activation and adenylyl cyclase activity. Whereas haloperidol, thioridazine, risperidone and olanzapine did not interact with 5-HT1A receptors, other antipsychotic agents exhibited agonist properties at these sites. E(max) values (% effect induced by 10 microM of 5-HT) for G-protein activation at rat brain 5-HT1A receptors sarizotan (66.5), bifeprunox (35.9), SSR181507 (25.8), nemonapride (25.7), ziprasidone (20.6), SLV313 (19), aripiprazole (15), tiospirone (8.9). These data were highly correlated with results obtained at recombinant human 5-HT1A receptors in determinations of G-protein activation and inhibition of forskolin-stimulated adenylyl cyclase. In binding-affinity determinations, the antipsychotics exhibited diverse properties at r5-HT1A receptors sarizotan (pK(i)=8.65), SLV313 (8.64), SSR181507 (8.53), nemonapride (8.35), ziprasidone (8.30), tiospirone (8.22), aripiprazole (7.42), bifeprunox (7.19) and clozapine (6.31). The affinity ratios of the ligands at 5-HT1A vs. D2 receptors also varied widely ziprasidone, SSR181507 and SLV313 had similar affinities whereas aripiprazole, nemonapride and bifeprunox were more potent at D2 than 5-HT1A receptors. Taken together, these data indicate that aripiprazole has low efficacy and modest affinity at 5-HT1A receptors, whereas bifeprunox has low affinity but high efficacy. In contrast, SSR181507 has intermediate efficacy but high affinity, and is likely to have more prominent 5-HT1A receptor agonist properties. Thus, the contribution of 5-HT1A receptor activation to the pharmacological profile of action of the antipsychotics will depend on the relative 5-HT1A/D2 affinities and on 5-HT1A agonist efficacy of the drugs.