1. We have compared the binding and Ca2+ mobilizing properties of various full agonists, partial agonists and a non-peptide antagonist at the neuropeptide Y (NPY) receptor of human erythroleukemia (HEL) cells. 2. [125I]-NPY binding to intact HEL cells was rapid, saturable, of high affinity and with a specificity typical for the Y1-like subtype: NPY, peptide YY (PYY) and [Pro34]-NPY competed for [125I]-NPY binding with high affinity whereas NPY13-36 and NPY18-36 had only low affinity. 3. NPY, PYY and [Pro34]-NPY potently increased intracellular Ca2+ in HEL cells and had equal efficacy. NPY13-36, vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) and pancreatic polypeptide (PP) increased intracellular Ca2+ only poorly. 4. Whereas VIP and PP did not significantly affect NPY-stimulated Ca2+ mobilization, NPY13-36 inhibited NPY-stimulated Ca2+ increases and shifted the NPY concentration-response curve to the right without altering its maximal effect. 5. The agonist (pEC50) potencies of the various peptides corresponded well with the affinities of these compounds in the binding assay (pKi), whereas the antagonist potencies (pKb) of the peptide partial agonists and the pA2 value of the non-peptide NPY antagonist (He 90481), calculated from functional data, were lower than the respective affinities determined in the binding studies. 6. A plot of the fractional Ca2+ response vs the fractional receptor occupancy did not reveal any non-linear receptor-effector coupling for NPY or [Pro34]-NPY; a small receptor reserve might exist for PYY. 7. We conclude that the binding and functional properties of HEL cell NPY receptors are very similar. NPY, PYY and [Pro34]NPY are full agonists at these receptors, whereas NPY13-36 is a partial agonist.