A series of 1-(pyrimidin-2-yl)piperazine derivatives were prepared and evaluated in receptor binding assays and in in vivo behavioral paradigms as potential atypical antipsychotic agents. Compound 16 (BMS 181100 (formerly BMY 14802)) emerged as the lead compound from within the series on the basis of its good activity and duration of action in the inhibition of both conditioned avoidance responding and apomorphine-induced stereotopy in the rat. Compound 16 not only failed to induce catalepsy in the rat but was quite effective in reversing the cataleptic effect of neuroleptic agents, thus indicating a low propensity for causing extrapyramidal side effects. In comparison to reference antipsychotic agents, 16 appeared to be less sedating and was relatively weaker in causing muscle incoordination. The compound was essentially inactive in binding to dopamine D2 receptors and its chronic administration to rats did not result in dopamine receptor supersensitivity. It exhibited modest to weak affinity for 5-HT1A and alpha 1 receptors but was found to be a fairly potent ligand for sigma binding sites (IC50 vs (+)-[3H]-3-PPP = 112 nM). Although the resolved enantiomers of racemic 16 did not show dramatic differences from racemate or from each other in most tests, the R(+) enantiomer was up to 11-fold more potent than its antipode in binding to sigma sites. Several studies have indicated that 16 may be a limbic-selective agent which may modulate dopaminergic activity by an indirect mechanism. The compound has been selected for clinical evaluation in the treatment of psychosis.