Hippocampal interneurons are excited via serotonin-gated ion channels. J. Neurophysiol. 78: 2493-2502, 1997. Serotonergic neurons of the median raphe nucleus heavily innervate hippocampal GABAergic interneurons located in stratum radiatum of area CA1, suggesting that this strong subcortical projection may modulate interneuron excitability. Using whole cell patch-clamp recording from interneurons in brain slices, we tested the effects of serotonin (5-HT) on the physiological properties of these interneurons. Serotonin produces a rapid inward current that persists when synaptic transmission is blocked by tetrodotoxin and cobalt, and is unaffected by ionotropic glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor antagonists. The 5-HT-induced current was independent of G-protein activation. Pharmacological evidence indicates that 5-HT directly excites these interneurons through activation of 5-HT3 receptors. At membrane potentials negative to -55 mV, the current-voltage (I-V) relationship of the 5-HT current displays a region of negative slope conductance. Therefore the response of interneurons to 5-HT strongly depends on membrane potential and increases greatly as cells are depolarized. Removal of extracellular calcium, but not magnesium, increases the amplitude of 5-HT-induced currents and removes the region of negative slope conductance, thereby linearizing the I-V relationship. The axons of 5-HT-responsive interneurons ramify widely within CA1; some of these interneurons also project to and arborize extensively in the dentate gyrus. The organization of these inhibitory connections strongly suggests that these cells regulate excitability of both CA1 pyramidal cells and dentate granule cells. As our results indicate that 5-HT may mediate fast excitatory synaptic transmission onto these interneurons, serotonergic inputs can simultaneously modulate the output of both hippocampus and dentate gyrus.