Measurement of plasma concentrations of the dopamine metabolite, homovanillic acid (pHVA), is an indirect tool to assess changes in dopamine turnover. Levels of pHVA have been reported to decrease during treatment with conventional antidopaminergic, neuroleptics, with the decrement correlating with symptomatic improvement in schizophrenic symptoms. Clozapine, an atypical neuroleptic, is the only drug proved to be effective in treatment-refractory patients. However, the mechanism mediating this unique efficacy has not been fully elucidated. This study examined the effect of clozapine on pHVA concentrations in schizophrenic patients. Since clozapine potently binds to alpha 2-adrenergic receptors, plasma norepinephrine (pNE) concentrations were also measured. Twenty-eight treatment-refractory schizophrenic patients (24 men, 4 women) were treated with clozapine (up to 600 mg/day) for 5 weeks, after a minimum 1-week drug-free period. Symptomatology and pHVA and pNE concentrations were measured at the last drug-free day and weekly for 5 weeks. Fourteen patients responded to clozapine treatment, while an equal number did not. Mean pHVA concentrations did not significantly change during treatment with clozapine. Although clozapine tended to lower pHVA concentrations in treatment responders, the effect was small and not significant. Clozapine treatment significantly raised pNE concentrations, but this did not differentiate responders from nonresponders to clozapine. These findings suggest that clozapine's effect on DA turnover is small and that clozapine may be effective in treatment-refractory schizophrenia by mechanisms other than, or in addition to, dopamine receptor blockade. However, since about one-third of NE is metabolized into HVA, the clozapine-induced increase in pNE may have overshadowed a possible lowering effect of clozapine on pHVA.