The binding of [3H]8-hydroxy-2-(di-N-propylamino)-tetralin ([ 3H]8-OH-DPAT) to rat hippocampal and striatal membranes has been compared. In the hippocampus, low concentrations of [3H]8-OH-DPAT bound to a single, high affinity site which was sensitive to inhibition by spiperone, buspirone and ergotamine but not by mianserin, quipazine or (-)-propranolol. This is consistent with a selective labeling of the 5-HT1A receptor. In the striatum, [3H]8-OH-DPAT bound to two sites with high and low affinity (KD's 1.18 and 109 nM). The high affinity component was blocked by low concentrations of buspirone, spiperone and ergotamine. The low affinity component was blocked only by high concentrations of buspirone and spiperone, and was not displaced by ergotamine at concentrations up to 1 microM. The ergotamine-resistant component of striatal [3H]8-OH-DPAT binding was blocked by low concentrations of the 5-HT uptake inhibitors fluvoxamine and paroxetine, and by relatively low concentrations of 5-HT itself. Thus [3H]8-OH-DPAT labels the 5-HT transporter in the rat striatum. Unlike [3H]imipramine binding, the binding of [3H]8-OH-DPAT to the 5-HT transporter was independent of external sodium ions. It is therefore suggested that 8-OH-DPAT acts as substrate for the 5-HT transporter and labels the 5-HT recognition site of the transporter complex.