Serotonin 5-HT2C receptor-mediated intracellular Ca2+ mobilization was investigated in 5-HT2C receptors expressed in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells; and fura-2/AM was used to investigate the regulation of 5-HT2C receptor function. CHO cells, transfected with a cDNA clone for the 5-HT2C receptor, expressed 287 fmol/mg of the receptor protein as determined by mianserin-sensitive [3H]-mesulergine binding (kd = 0.49 nM). The addition of 5-HT mobilized intracellular Ca2+ in a dose-dependent fashion, ranging from basal level of 99 +/- 1.8 nM up to 246 +/- 21.2 nM, with an EC50 value for 5-HT of .015 microM. Exposure to 5-HT, a 5-HT receptor agonist, mCPP [1-(3-chlorophenyl)piperazine dihydrochloride], a 5-HT2C agonist, and DOI [1-(4-iodo-2,5-dimethoxyphenyl)-2-aminopropane], a 5-HT2C and 5-HT2 agonist, resulted in increased intracellular Ca2+ levels. Mianserin, mesulergine, ritanserin, and ketanserin each blocked 5-HT-mediated intracellular Ca2+ mobilization more effectively than spiperone. Mianserin and amoxapine inhibited 5-HT-mediated intracellular Ca2+ mobilization completely; amitriptyline, nortriptyline, and imipramine reduced it about 50%. These results suggest that antagonism in CHO cells transfected with human 5-HT2C receptors is a component of the serotonergic properties of a number of established antidepressants.