1. The actions of serotonin (5-HT) on pyramidal cells of the CA1 region of the rat hippocampus were characterized using intracellular recording in in vitro brain slices. 2. 5-HT typically evokes a biphasic response consisting of a hyperpolarization which is followed by a longer-lasting depolarization. These effects on membrane potential are accompanied by a decrease in the calcium-activated after-hyperpolarization (a.h.p). 3. Detailed analysis using 5-HT antagonists and agonists indicates that the hyperpolarization is mediated by a 5-HT1A receptor. Spiperone is the most effective antagonist of the response and the selective 5-HT1A agonist, 8-OHDPAT, behaves as a partial agonist at this receptor. In agreement with the distribution of 5-HT1A binding sites, responses to 5-HT were most prominent in the stratum radiatum. 4. The hyperpolarizing response is associated with a decrease in input resistance, is blocked by extracellular barium and intracellular caesium, is unaffected by the chloride gradient, and its reversal potential shifts with the extracellular concentration of potassium as predicted for a response mediated by a selective increase in potassium permeability. 5. The depolarizing response and reduction in the a.h.p. could be studied in isolation by blocking the hyperpolarizing response with either pertussis toxin or spiperone. The pharmacology of these responses did not correspond to that of any of the 5-HT binding sites reported in C.N.S. tissue. Although the depolarization and blockade of the a.h.p. have the same time course it is unclear if they are mediated by the same or different receptors. 6. The depolarization most likely results from a decrease in resting potassium conductance. However, neither a blockade of the M current nor the a.h.p. current can account for the depolarization. 7. Blockade of phosphodiesterase activity by 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine (IBMX) did not enhance the depressant action of 5-HT on the a.h.p., making it unlikely that this action is mediated by cyclic AMP. 8. Blockade of the a.h.p. by 5-HT reduces spike frequency adaptation and counteracts the inhibitory action of 5-HT on 5-HT1A receptors. This excitatory action outlasts the hyperpolarizing action. 9. In summary 5-HT acts on at least two distinct receptors on hippocampal pyramidal cells, one coupled to the opening of potassium channels and a second coupled to a decrease in a resting potassium conductance and a decrease in the a.h.p.