Ramelteon (TAK-375) is a novel melatonin receptor agonist currently under investigation for the treatment of insomnia. This study describes the neurochemical and receptor binding characteristics of ramelteon in vitro. Ramelteon showed very high affinity for human MT1 (Mel1a) and MT2 (Mel1b) receptors (expressed in Chinese hamster ovary [CHO] cells), and chick forebrain melatonin receptors (consisting of Mel1a and Mel1c receptors) with Ki values of 14.0, 112, and 23.1 pM, respectively, making the affinities of ramelteon for these receptors 3-16 times higher than those of melatonin. The affinity of ramelteon for hamster brain MT3 binding sites was extremely weak (Ki: 2.65 microM) compared to melatonin's affinity for the MT3 binding site (Ki: 24.1 nM). In addition, ramelteon showed no measurable affinity for a large number of ligand binding sites (including benzodiazepine receptors, dopamine receptors, opiate receptors, ion channels, and transporters) and no effect on the activity of various enzymes. Ramelteon inhibited forskolin-stimulated cAMP production in the CHO cells that express the human MT1 or MT2 receptors. Taken together, these results indicate that ramelteon is a potent and highly selective agonist of MT1/MT2 melatonin receptors.