The hallucinogenic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) have mainly been attributed to the interaction of this drug with the serotoninergic system, but it seems more likely that they are the result of the complex interactions of the drug with both the serotoninergic and dopaminergic systems. The aim of the present study was to investigate the functional actions of LSD at dopaminergic receptors using prolactin secretion by primary cultures of rat pituitary cells as a model. LSD produced a dose-dependent inhibition of prolactin secretion in vitro with an IC50 at 1.7x10(-9) M. This action was antagonized by spiperone but not by SKF83566 or cyproheptadine, which indicates that LSD has a specific effect on D2 dopaminergic receptors. The maximum inhibition of prolactin secretion achieved by LSD was lower than that by dopamine (60% versus 80%). Moreover, the fact that LSD at 10(-8)-10(-6) M antagonized the inhibitory effect of dopamine (10(-7) M) and bromocriptine (10(-11) M) suggests that LSD acts as a partial agonist at D2 receptors on lactotrophs in vitro. Interestingly, LSD at 10(-13)-10(-10) M, the concentrations which are 10-1000-fold lower than those required to induce direct inhibition on pituitary prolactin secretion, potentiated the dopamine (10(-10)-2.5x10(-9) M)-mediated prolactin secretion by pituitary cells in vitro. These results suggest that LSD not only interacts with dopaminergic receptors but also has a unique capacity for modulating dopaminergic transmission. These findings may offer new insights into the hallucinogenic effect of LSD.