We have synthesized several derivative of dl-threo-methylphenidate (Ritalin) bearing substituents on the phenyl ring. IC50 values for binding these compounds to rat brain monoamine transporters were assessed using [3H]WIN 35,428 (striatal membranes, dopamine transporters, DAT), [3H]nisoxetine (frontal cortex membranes, norepinephrine transporters, NET) and [3H]paroxetine (brain stem membranes, 5HT transporters, 5HTT). Affinities (1/Ki) decreased in the order: DAT > NET >> 5HTT. Substitution at the para position of dl-threo-methylphenidate generally led to retained or increased affinity for the dopamine transporter (bromo > iodo > methoxy > hydroxy). Substitution at the meta position also increased affinity for the DAT (m-bromo > methylphenidate; m-iodo-p-hydroxy > p-hydroxy). Substitution at the ortho position with bromine considerably decreased affinity. Similar IC50 values for binding of o-bromomethylphenidate to the dopamine transporter were measured at 0, 22 and 37 degrees. N-Methylation of the piperidine ring of methylphenidate also considerably reduced affinity. The dl-erythro isomer of o-bromomethylphenidate did not bind to the DAT (IC50 > 50,000 nM). Affinities at the dopamine and norepinephrine transporters for substituted methylphenidate derivatives were well correlated (r2=0.90). Abilities of several methylphenidate derivatives to inhibit [3H]dopamine uptake in striatal synaptosomes corresponded well with inhibition of [3H]WIN 35, 428 binding. None of the compounds examined exhibited significant affinity to dopamine D1 or D2 receptors (IC50 > 500 or 5,000 nM, respectively), as assessed by inhibition of binding of [3H]SCH 23390 or [123I]epidepride, respectively, to striatal membranes.