Four dopamine D2 receptor mutants were constructed, in each of which an alanine residue was substituted for one of four conserved serine residues, i.e., Ser-193, Ser-194, Ser-197, and Ser-391. Wild-type and mutant receptors were expressed transiently in COS-7 cells and stably in C6 glioma cells for analysis of ligand-receptor interactions. In radioligand binding assays, the affinity of D2 receptors for dopamine was decreased 50-fold by substitution of alanine for Ser-193, implicating this residue in the binding of dopamine. Each mutant had smaller decreases in affinity for one or more of the ligands tested, with no apparent relationship between the class of ligand and the pattern of mutation-induced changes in affinity, except that the potency of agonists was decreased by substitution for Ser-193. The potency of dopamine for inhibition of adenylyl cyclase was reduced substantially by substitution of alanine for Ser-193 or Ser-197. Mutation of Ser-194 led to a complete loss of efficacy for dopamine and p-tyramine, which would be consistent with an interaction between Ser-194 and the p-hydroxyl substituent of dopamine that is necessary for activation of the receptors to occur. Because mutation of the corresponding residues of beta 2-adrenergic receptors has very different consequences, we conclude that although the position of these serine residues is highly conserved among catecholamine receptors, and the residues as a group are important in ligand binding and activation of receptors by agonists, the function of each of the residues considered separately varies among catecholamine receptors.