To determine the functional relevance of the age-related neurochemical changes that occur in brain serotonin systems during aging, we measured the effects of the serotonin receptor agonist meta-chlorophenylpiperazine (MCPP) on behavior and on regional cerebral metabolic rates for glucose (rCMRglc) in awake rats. rCMRglc was determined in 74 regions of Fischer-344 rats aged 3, 12 and 24 months, at 15 and 90 min after MCPP 2.5 mg/kg IP, using the quantitative, autoradiographic [14C]2-deoxy-D-glucose technique. The time-course of motor performance following MCPP was assessed with a rotating rod. MCPP impaired motor performance in all ages maximally at 15-30 min. Three-month-old rats recovered completely within 60 min, whereas 12-month-old animals exhibited partial recovery and 24-month-old rats did not recover by 120 min. At 15 min after MCPP, rCMRglc was reduced in 51 of the 74 studied regions (overall decrease, 20%) of 3-month-old rats, in 21 regions (13% decrease) of 12-month-old rats and in 14 regions (2% decrease) of 24-month-old animals. Similar MCPP brain concentrations were achieved at 15 min in rats of all ages. The results suggest that the functional integrity of serotonergic transmission is reduced in aged rats and that the dysregulation is presynaptic.