Although considerable progress has been made in characterising the 5-HT1A receptor using agonists, partial agonists or non-selective antagonists, further studies of 5-HT1A receptor function have been hindered by the lack of highly selective antagonists. The term 'silent' antagonist has been used for such compounds in order to distinguish them unequivocally from several 5-HT1A receptor partial agonists which were initially designated 'antagonists'. In this report we provide a comprehensive review of the biochemical, pharmacological and behavioural properties of the first potent, selective and silent 5-HT1A receptor antagonist, WAY-100635 (N-[2-[4-(2-methoxyphenyl)-1-piperazinyl]ethyl)-N-(2- pyridinyl)cyclohexanecarboxamide trihydrochloride). WAY-100635 had an IC50 (displacement of specific [3H]8-OH-DPAT binding to 5-HT1A receptors in the rat hippocampus) of 1.35 nM and was > 100-fold selective for the 5-HT1A site relative to a range of other CNS receptors. [3H]WAY-100635 was also characterised as the first 5-HT1A antagonist radioligand, displaying the same regional distribution of binding sites as [3H]8-OH-DPAT in rat brain. As would be expected for the binding of an antagonist to a G-protein-coupled receptor, the Bmax of [3H]WAY-100635 specific binding was consistently 50-60% greater than that of the agonist radioligand, [3H]8-OH-DPAT. Mn2+, but not guanine nucleotides, inhibited [3H]WAY-100635-specific binding. [3H]WAY-100635 was also shown to bind selectively to brain 5-HT1A receptors in vivo, following intravenous administration to mice. In vitro electrophysiological studies demonstrated that WAY-100635 had no 5-HT1A receptor agonist actions, but dose-dependently blocked the effects of agonists at both the postsynaptic 5-HT1A receptor in the CA1 region of the hippocampus, and the somatodendritic 5-HT1A receptor located on dorsal raphe 5-HT neurones. In vivo, WAY-100635 also dose-dependently blocked the ability of 8-OH-DPAT to inhibit the firing of dorsal raphe 5-HT neurones, and to induce the '5-HT syndrome', hypothermia, hyperphagia and to elevate plasma ACTH levels. In the mouse light/dark box anxiety model, WAY-100635 induced anxiolytic-like effects. WAY-100635 had no intrinsic effect on cognition in the delayed-matching-to-position model of short-term memory in the rat, but reversed the disruptive effects of 8-OH-DPAT on motor motivational performance. These data clearly demonstrate that WAY-100635 is the first potent, selective and silent 5-HT1A receptor antagonist. Furthermore, [3H]WAY-100635 is the first antagonist radioligand to become available for 5-HT1A receptor binding studies both in vitro and in vivo. The positive effects of WAY-100635 in an anxiety model also indicate that a postsynaptic 5-HT1A receptor antagonist action may contribute to the anxiolytic properties of 5-HT1A receptor partial agonists.