The transcriptional initiation and regulation of the rat serotonin 5-HT1A receptor gene were characterized. By three types of analyses, a single brain-specific site of transcriptional initiation was localized to -967 bp upstream of the translation initiation codon that is utilized both in hippocampus and in the rat raphe RN46A cell line. This major site of transcriptional initiation was located 58 bp downstream from a consensus TATA element, suggesting TATA-driven transcription of the rat 5-HT1A receptor. To identify the promoter activity of the receptor gene, progressive 5' deletions of the -2,719/-117-bp fragment of the 5-HT1A promoter linked to luciferase gene were transfected into 5-HT1A-negative (pituitary GH4C1, L6 myoblast, and C6 glioma) and 5-HT1A-positive (septal SN-48 and raphe RN46A) cell lines. Enhancer regions were identified within a fragment between nucleotides -426 and -117 that selectively enhanced transcription in 5-HT1A-positive cells. A nonselective enhancer/promoter that mediated expression in all cell lines was located upstream between -1,519 and -426 bp in a DNA segment containing consensus TATA, CCAAT, SP-1, and AP-1 elements as well as a poly-GT26 dinucleotide repeat. Strong repression of transcription in all cell lines was conferred by the region upstream of -1,519 bp that contains a 152-bp DNA segment with >80% identity to RANTES, tumor necrosis factor-beta, and other immune system genes. Our results indicate that TATA-driven expression of the 5-HT1A receptor is regulated by a novel proximal tissue-specific enhancer region, a nonselective promoter, and an upstream repressor region that is distinct from previously identified neuron-specific repressors.