Serotonin (5-HT)-stimulated phosphoinositide hydrolysis is mediated by the 5-HT-2 receptor in rat cerebral cortex and by the 5-HT-1c receptor in rat choroid plexus. These systems were used to determine relative efficacies of piperazine derivatives at the 5-HT-2 and 5-HT-1c receptors. Both quipazine and 6-chloro-2-[1-piperazinyl]-pyrazine (MK-212) stimulated phosphoinositide hydrolysis in cerebral cortex, and these effects were blocked by ketanserin. The maximum responses to these agonists were 80% of the maximum response to 5-HT. m-Trifluoromethylphenylpiperazine (TFMPP), m-chlorophenylpiperazine (MCPP) and 1-(1-naphthyl)-piperazine (1-NP) did not stimulate phosphoinositide hydrolysis in cerebral cortex at concentrations that blocked the effect of 5-HT. In the choroid plexus, TFMPP and MCPP, as well as MK-212 and quipazine, increased phosphoinositide hydrolysis and mianserin blocked these effects. MK-212 had an efficacy which was equal to that of 5-HT, whereas quipazine, MCPP and TFMPP were partial agonists in the choroid plexus. 1-NP did not stimulate phosphoinositide hydrolysis in choroid plexus but completely blocked the effect 5-HT. On the basis of these data, we conclude that quipazine and MK-212 are partial agonists at 5-HT-2 receptors in cerebral cortex, whereas 1-NP, TFMPP and MCPP are pure antagonists of the cortical 5-HT-2 receptor. However, TFMPP and MCPP as well as quipazine and MK-212 are agonists at the 5-HT-1c receptor, while 1-NP is a pure antagonist of the 5-HT-1c receptor in choroid plexus.