Unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) lesions of substantia nigra pars compacta (SNPC) neurons in rats induce behavioural hypersensitivity to dopaminergic agonists. However, the role of specific dopamine receptors is unclear, and potential alterations in their transduction mechanisms remain to be evaluated. The present study addressed these issues employing the dopaminergic agonist, quinelorane, which efficaciously stimulated G-protein activation (as assessed by [35S]GTPgammaS binding) at cloned hD2 (and hD3) receptors. At rat striatal membranes, dopamine stimulated [35S]GTPgammaS binding by 1.9-fold over basal, but its actions were only partially reversed by the selective D2/D3 receptor antagonist, raclopride, indicating the involvement of other receptor subtypes. In contrast, quinelorane-induced stimulation (48% of the effect of dopamine) was abolished by raclopride, and by the D2 receptor antagonist, L741,626. Further, novel antagonists selective for D3 and D4 receptors, S33084 and S18126, respectively, blocked the actions of quinelorane at concentrations corresponding to their affinities for D2 receptors. Quinelorane potently induced contralateral rotation in unilaterally 6-OHDA-lesioned rats, an effect abolished by raclopride and L741,626, but not by D3 and D4 receptor-selective doses of S33084 and S18126, respectively. In functional ([35S]GTPgammaS) autoradiography experiments, quinelorane stimulated G-protein activation in caudate putamen and, to a lesser extent, in nucleus accumbens and cingulate cortex of naive rats. In unilaterally SNPC-lesioned rats, quinelorane-induced G-protein activation in the caudate putamen on the non-lesioned side was similar to that seen in naive animals (approximately 50% stimulation), but significantly greater on the lesioned side (approximately 80%). This increase was both pharmacologically and regionally specific since it was reversed by raclopride, and was not observed in nucleus accumbens or cingulate cortex. In conclusion, the present data indicate that, in rat striatum, the actions of quinelorane are mediated primarily by D2 receptors, and suggest that behavioural hypersensitivity to this agonist, induced by unilateral SNPC lesions, is associated with an increase in D2, but not D3 or D4, receptor-mediated G-protein activation.