Drugs that block dopamine uptake often function as positive reinforcers but can differ along the dimension of strength or effectiveness as a positive reinforcer. The present study was designed to examine pharmacological mechanisms that might contribute to differences in reinforcing strength between the piperidine-based cocaine analog (+)-methyl 4beta-(4-chlorophenyl)-1-methylpiperidine-3-alpha-carboxylate [(+)-CPCA] and cocaine. Drugs were made available to rhesus monkeys (n = 5) for i.v. self-administration under a progressive ratio schedule. Both compounds maintained responding with sigmoidal or biphasic dose-response functions (0.1-1.0 mg/kg/injection). (+)-CPCA was one-fourth as potent as cocaine and maintained fewer injections per session, at maximum. For in vitro binding in monkey brain tissue, (+)-CPCA was about one-half as potent as cocaine at the dopamine transporter (DAT), and the two compounds had similar affinities at the norepinephrine transporter. (+)-CPCA was less than 1/10 as potent as cocaine at the serotonin transporter. In ex vivo binding in rat striatum, occupancy of the DAT increased directly with dose to a maximum of approximately 80% for both compounds, and (+)-CPCA was about one-fourth as potent as cocaine. Ex vivo DAT occupancy was significantly higher for cocaine than (+)-CPCA at 2 min after injection but similar at other times. Thus, the primary differences between these compounds were in serotonin transporter affinity and the kinetics of DAT binding. These results suggest that (+)-CPCA is a weaker positive reinforcer than cocaine because it has a slower onset of action over the first few minutes after i.v. injection.