Mesulergine displays approximately 50-fold higher affinity for the rat 5-HT2 receptor than for the human receptor. Comparison of the deduced amino acid sequences of cDNA clones encoding the human and rat 5-HT2 receptors reveals only 3 amino acid differences in their transmembrane domains. Only one of these differences (Ser----Ala at position 242 of TM5) is near to regions implicated in ligand binding by G protein-coupled receptors. We investigated the effect of mutating Ser242 of the human 5-HT2 receptor to an Ala residue as is found in the rat clone. Both [3H]mesulergine binding and mesulergine competition of [3H]ketanserin binding showed high affinity for rat membranes and the mutant human clone but low affinity for the native human clone, in agreement with previous studies of human postmortem tissue. These studies suggest that a single naturally occurring amino acid change between the human and the rat 5-HT2 receptors makes a major contribution to their pharmacological differences.