This study describes the depression of calcium currents caused by activation of human D3 dopamine receptors which have been stably expressed in the neuroblastoma x glioma NG108-15 cell line. Transfected cells, which had been differentiated with prostaglandin E1 and isobutylmethylxanthine, exclusively expressed D3 receptor mRNA, which was demonstrated by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction techniques. Transfected cells had high affinity binding sites for iodosulpiride, with a Kd of 0.8 nM and receptor density of 240 fmol mg-1 protein. Calcium currents were recorded using nystatin-perforated patch clamp techniques. In contrast to untransfected cells that had been differentiated, high-threshold calcium currents in differentiated hD3-NG108-15 cells were depressed by application of dopamine and quinpirole. These responses were abolished by the dopamine receptor antagonist S-(-)-sulpiride (1 microM), demonstrating that they were caused by the activation of the transfected dopamine receptors. Coupling of human D3 receptors to calcium currents was sensitive to the action of pertussis toxin, suggesting the involvement of G-proteins of the Gi and/or G(o) subtype. These results demonstrate that human D3 receptors represent a functional class of dopamine receptor.