Using positron emission tomography and the carbon 11-labeled ligand raclopride, central D2-dopamine receptor occupancy in the putamen was determined in psychiatric patients treated with clinical doses of psychoactive drugs. Receptor occupancy in drug-treated patients was defined as the percent reduction of specific carbon 11-raclopride binding in relation to the expected binding in the absence of drug treatment. Clinical treatment of schizophrenic patients with 11 chemically distinct antipsychotic drugs (including both classic and atypical neuroleptics such as clozapine) resulted in a 65% to 85% occupancy of D2-dopamine receptors. In a depressed patient treated with the tricyclic antidepressant nortriptyline, no occupancy was found. The time course for receptor occupancy and drug levels was followed after withdrawal of sulpiride or haloperidol. D2-dopamine receptor occupancy remained above 65% for many hours despite a substantial reduction of serum drug concentrations. In a sulpiride-treated patient, the dosage was reduced in four steps over a nine-week period and a curvilinear relationship was demonstrated between central D2-dopamine receptor occupancy and serum drug concentrations. The results demonstrate that clinical doses of all the currently used classes of antipsychotic drugs cause a substantial blockade of central D2-dopamine receptors in humans. This effect appears to be selective for the antipsychotics, since it was not induced by the antidepressant nortriptyline.