Human D3 dopamine receptor DNA was stably transfected into GH4C1 pituitary cells. Displacement of iodosulpiride binding in hD3 transfected cells (Kd = 0.3 nM, Bmax = 89 fmol/mg protein) by dopaminergic ligands was indistinguishable from that of hD3 receptors in CHO cells. Only two clonal cell lines exhibited weak GppNHp-dependent shifts in [3H]N-0437 binding, and these were used for functional assays. Neither arachidonic acid metabolism, cAMP levels, inositol phosphate turnover, intracellular calcium, or potassium currents were consistently affected by dopamine (1-10 microM). The paucity of responses indicates that human D3 receptors do not couple efficiently to these second messengers in GH4C1 cells.