Most depressed patients don't respond to their first drug treatment, and the reasons for this treatment resistance remain enigmatic. Human studies implicate a polymorphism in the promoter of the serotonin-1A (5-HT(1A)) receptor gene in increased susceptibility to depression and decreased treatment response. Here we develop a new strategy to manipulate 5-HT(1A) autoreceptors in raphe nuclei without affecting 5-HT(1A) heteroreceptors, generating mice with higher (1A-High) or lower (1A-Low) autoreceptor levels. We show that this robustly affects raphe firing rates, but has no effect on either basal forebrain serotonin levels or conflict-anxiety measures. However, compared to 1A-Low mice, 1A-High mice show a blunted physiological response to acute stress, increased behavioral despair, and no behavioral response to antidepressant, modeling patients with the 5-HT(1A) risk allele. Furthermore, reducing 5-HT(1A) autoreceptor levels prior to antidepressant treatment is sufficient to convert nonresponders into responders. These results establish a causal relationship between 5-HT(1A) autoreceptor levels, resilience under stress, and response to antidepressants.