The nonsteroidal antioestrogen tamoxifen has been shown to block a number of voltage-gated cation-selective channels but its effect on ligand-gated cation-selective channels has not been studied. We have investigated the action of tamoxifen and the related derivative toremifene on ligand-gated cationic nicotinic acetylcholine and 5-HT3 receptor channels. Tamoxifen and toremifene both inhibited cationic currents of adult-type human muscle nicotinic acetylcholine receptors expressed in Xenopus oocytes with similar IC50 values of 1.2 +/- 0.03 microM (nH = 0.84 +/- 0.02) and 1.2 +/- 0.1 microM (nH = 1.1 +/- 0.1), respectively. Tamoxifen could also block native 5-HT3 receptors in NG108-15 neuroblastoma/glioma hybrid cells with IC50 = 0.81 +/- 0.15 microM and nH of 1.3 +/- 0.3. The characteristics of block by tamoxifen at the 5-HT3 receptor were voltage- and use-independent. The inhibition of the 5-HT-evoked currents were not overcome by increasing concentrations of 5-HT consistent with a noncompetitive mechanism of block.