A three-dimensional model of the serotonin (5-hydroxytrytamine; 5-HT) 5-HT2 receptor was constructed from the amino acid sequence by molecular graphics techniques, molecular mechanics energy calculations and molecular dynamics simulations. The receptor model has 7 alpha helical segments which form a membrane-spanning duct with a putative ligand binding site. Most of the synaptic domains and the ligand binding site were surrounded by negative electrostatic potentials, suggesting that positively charged ligands are attracted to the receptor by electrostatic forces. The cytoplasmic domains, except the C-terminal tail, had mainly positive electrostatic potentials. The molecular dynamics of the receptor-ligand complex was examined in 100 ps simulations with 5-HT or ritanserin at a postulated binding site. During the simulations the helices moved from an initial circular arrangement into a more oval arrangement, and became slightly tilted relative to each other. The protonated ligands neutralized the negative electrostatic potentials around Asp 120 and Asp 155 in the central core of the receptor. 5-HT had only weak interactions with Asp 155 but strong interactions with Asp 120 during the simulations, with the amino group of 5-HT tightly bound to the carboxylic side chain of Asp 120. Ritanserin showed similarly strong interactions with Asp 120 and Asp 155 during the simulations.