Aripiprazole is a novel antipsychotic with a unique mechanism of action, which differs from currently marketed typical and atypical antipsychotics. Aripiprazole has been shown to be a partial agonist at the D(2) family of dopamine (DA) receptors in biochemical and pharmacological studies. To demonstrate aripiprazole's action as a partial D(2) agonist in pituitary cells at the molecular level, we retrovirally transduced the short (D(2S)) and the long (D(2L)) form of the human DA D(2) receptor gene into a rat pituitary cell line, GH4C1. [(3)H]-raclopride saturation binding analyses revealed a B(max) value approximately four-fold higher at D(2S) receptor-expressing GH4C1 cells than at D(2L) receptor-expressing GH4C1 cells, while a K(d) value was similar. Aripiprazole inhibited forskolin-stimulated release of prolactin in both D(2S) and D(2L) receptor-expressing GH4C1 cells, whereas the maximal inhibition of prolactin release was less than that of DA. Similarly, aripiprazole partially inhibited forskolin-induced cAMP accumulation in both D(2) receptor-expressing cells. Aripiprazole antagonized the suppression attained by DA (10(-7) M) in both D(2) receptor-expressing cells and, at the maximal blockade of cAMP, yielded residual cAMP levels equal to those produced by aripiprazole alone. These results indicate that aripiprazole acts as a partial agonist at both D(2S) and D(2L) receptors expressed in GH4C1 cells. These data may explain, at least in part, the observations that aripiprazole shows a novel antipsychotic activity with minimal potential for adverse events including no significant increase of serum prolactin levels in clinical studies.