Transfected cells containing GABA(A) benzodiazepine receptors (BDZRs) have been utilized to systematically determine the affinity of ligands at alpha1, alpha2, alpha3, alpha5 and alpha6 subtypes in combination with beta2 and gamma2. All but a few of the ligands thus far studied have relatively high affinities for each of these alpha subtype receptors. Thus, these ligands must contain common stereochemical properties favorable for recognition by each of the subtype combinations. In the present work, such a common three-dimensional (3D) pharmacophore for recognition of alpha1, alpha2, alpha3, alpha5 and alpha6 containing GABA(A)/BDZRs types of receptors has been developed and assessed, using as a database receptor affinities measured in transfected cells for 27 diverse compounds. The 3D-recognition pharmacophore developed consists of three proton accepting groups, a hydrophobic group, and the centroid of an aromatic ring found in a common geometric arrangement in the 19 nonselective ligands used. Three tests were made to assess this pharmacophore: (i) Four low affinity compounds were used as negative controls, (ii) Four high affinity compounds, excluded from the pharmacophore development, were used as compounds for pharmacophore validation, (iii) The 3D pharmacophore was used to search 3D databases. The results of each of these types of assessments provided robust validation of the 3D pharmacophore. This 3D pharmacophore can now be used to discover novel nonselective ligands that could be activation selective at different behavioral end points. Additionally, it may serve as a guide in the design of more selective ligands, by determining if candidate ligands proposed for synthesis conform to this pharmacophore and selecting those that do not for further experimental assessment.