This study employed [(35)S]guanosine 5'- O-(3-thiotriphosphate) ([(35)S]GTPgammaS) binding to compare the actions of antipsychotic agents known to stimulate cloned, human 5-HT(1A) receptors with those of reference agonists at postsynaptic 5-HT(1A) receptors. In rat hippocampal membranes, the following order of efficacy was observed (maximum efficacy, E(max), values relative to 5-HT=100) (+)8-OH-DPAT (85), flesinoxan (62), eltoprazine (60), S14506 (59), S16924 (48), buspirone (41), S15535 (22), clozapine (22), ziprasidone (21), pindolol (7), p-MPPI (0), WAY100,635 (0), spiperone (0). Despite differences in species and tissue source, the efficacy and potency (pEC(50)) of agonists (with the exception of clozapine) correlated well with those determined previously at human 5-HT(1A) receptors expressed in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. In contrast, clozapine was more potent at hippocampal membranes. The selective antagonists p-MPPI and WAY100,635 abolished stimulation of binding by (+)8-OH-DPAT, clozapine and S16924 (p-MPPI), indicating that these actions were mediated specifically by 5-HT(1A) receptors. Clozapine and S16924 also attenuated 5-HT- and (+)8-OH-DPAT-stimulated [(35)S]GTPgammaS binding, consistent with partial agonist properties. In [(35)S]GTPgammaS autoradiographic studies, 5-HT-induced stimulation, mediated through 5-HT(1A) receptors, was more potent in the septum (pEC(50) approximately 6.5) than in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus (pEC(50) approximately 5) suggesting potential differences in coupling efficiency or G protein expression. Though clozapine (30 and 100 microM) did not enhance [(35)S]GTPgammaS labelling in any structure, S16924 (10 micro M) modestly increased [(35)S]GTPgammaS labelling in the dentate gyrus. On the other hand, both these antipsychotic agents attenuated 5-HT (10 microM)-stimulated [(35)S]GTPgammaS binding in the dentate gyrus and septum. In conclusion, clozapine, S16924 and ziprasidone act as partial agonists for G protein activation at postsynaptic 5-HT(1A) receptors in the hippocampus. These data support a role of postsynaptic 5-HT(1A) receptors in the functional profiles of certain antipsychotic agents.