Tritiation of the dopamine D(4) receptor selective agonist A-369508 ([2-[4-(2-cyanophenyl)-1-piperazinyl]-N-(3-methylphenyl) acetamide) has provided a radioligand for the characterization of dopamine D(4) receptors. [(3)H] A-369508 binds with high affinity to the major human dopamine D(4) receptor variants D(4.2), D(4.4) and D(4.7) (K(d)=1.7, 4, and 1.2 nM, respectively). It also binds to the rat dopamine D(4) receptor, (K(d)=4.4 nM), implying similar binding affinity across human and rat receptors. A-369508 shows >400-fold selectivity over D(2L), >350-fold selectivity over 5-HT(1A) and >700-1,000-fold selectivity over all other receptors tested. Agonist activity determined by inhibition of forskolin-induced cAMP in Chinese hamster ovary cells transfected with the human dopamine D(4.4) receptor (EC(50)=7.5 nM, intrinsic activity=0.71) indicates that A-369508 is a potent agonist at the human dopamine D(4) receptor. Similar data was observed in other functional assays. [(3)H] A-369508 binds to a single, high affinity site on membranes containing the human dopamine D(4.4) receptor. When compared to the D(2)-like antagonist [(3)H] spiperone, competition binding for agonists like dopamine and apomorphine were 2-10-fold more potent with [(3)H] A-369508, while the antagonists clozapine, haloperidol and L-745870 bind with similar affinity to both ligands. Binding to rat brain regions demonstrated that the most abundant area was cerebral cortex (51.2 fmol/mg protein) followed by hypothalamus, hippocampus, striatum and cerebellum. [(3)H] A-369508 is a useful tool to define the localization and physiological role of dopamine D(4) receptors in central nervous system and can facilitate measuring accurate affinities (K(i)) for structure/activity relationship studies designed to identify dopamine D(4) receptor selective agonists.