The behavioral and biochemical effects of the noncompetitive N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, MK-801 [+)-5-methyl-10,11-dihydro-5H-dibenzo[a,d]cyclohepten-5,10-imine maleate) were compared with those of phencyclidine (PCP). In the dose range used in this study, MK-801 (0.125-0.5 mg/kg i.p.) produced ataxia and other behavioral responses which were similar to PCP (5-10 mg/kg i.p.). However, turning and backpedalling induced by MK-801 were not dose-dependent and less intense at the dose producing approximately the same level of ataxia as PCP. Neurochemically, MK-801 (0.5 mg/kg i.p.) increased dopamine turnover in the cortex and striatum, but had no effect on 5-HT systems. It was also 3.4 times less potent in inhibiting 5-HT uptake than PCP. These results suggest that the behavioral responses induced by MK-801 involve primarily the PCP receptor and the dopamine system, and that the differences from PCP reflect a reduced effect on the 5-HT neuronal system.