In the present study, serotonin (5-HT) responses of hippocampal pyramidal cornu ammonis 1 (CA1) neurons were studied in rats subjected twice daily for 21 days to unpredictable stressors. In hippocampal tissue from thus stressed rats mRNA expression of the 5-HT(1A) receptor and mineralo- as well as glucocorticoid receptors were examined with in situ hybridization. On average, stressed rats displayed increased adrenal weight and attenuated body weight gain compared with controls, supporting that the animals had experienced increased corticosterone levels due to the stress exposure. One day after the last stressor, under conditions that corticosterone levels were low (predominant mineralocorticoid receptor activation), the 5-HT(1A) receptor mediated hyperpolarization of CA1 neurons in response to 10 microM 5-HT was significantly reduced compared with controls. Basal membrane properties of CA1 cells in stressed rats were comparable to those of controls. The 5-HT(1A) receptor mRNA expression was not changed after chronic stress exposure, in any of the hippocampal areas. A small but significant increase in mineralocorticoid receptor mRNA expression was observed after stress in the dentate gyrus, while glucocorticoid receptor expression was unchanged. The data indicate that unpredictable stress exposure for 3 weeks results in suppression of 5-HT(1A) receptor-mediated responses, possibly due to posttranslational modification of the receptor.