Recombinant human (h) 5-HT1A receptor-mediated G-protein activation was characterised in membranes of transfected Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells by use of guanosine-5'-O-(3-[35S]thio)-triphosphate ([35S]GTPgammaS binding). The potency and efficacy of 21 5-HT receptor agonists and antagonists was determined. The agonists, 5-CT (carboxamidotryptamine) and flesinoxan displayed high affinity (subnanomolar Ki values) and high efficacy (Emax > 90%, relative to 5-HT = 100%). In contrast, ipsapirone, zalospirone and buspirone displayed partial agonist activity. EC50s for agonist stimulation of [35S]GTPgammaS binding correlated well with Ki values from competition binding (r = +0.99). Among the compounds tested for antagonist activity, methiothepin and (+)butaclamol exhibited 'inverse agonist' behaviour, inhibiting basal [35S]GTPgammaS binding. The actions of 17 antipsychotic agents were investigated. Clozapine and several putatively 'atypical' antipsychotic agents, including ziprasidone, quetiapine and tiospirone, exhibited partial agonist activity and marked affinity at h5-HT1A receptors, similar to their affinity at hD2 dopamine receptors. In contrast, risperidone and sertindole displayed low affinity at h5-HT1A receptors and behaved as 'neutral' antagonists, inhibiting 5-HT-stimulated [35S]GTPgammaS binding. Likewise the 'typical' neuroleptics, haloperidol, pimozide, raclopride and chlorpromazine exhibited relatively low affinity and 'neutral' antagonist activity at h5-HT1A receptors with Ki values which correlated with their respective Kb values. The present data show that (i) [35S]GTPgammaS binding is an effective method to evaluate the efficacy and potency of agonists and antagonists at recombinant human 5-HT1A receptors. (ii) Like clozapine, several putatively 'atypical' antipsychotic drugs display balanced serotonin h5-HT1A/dopamine hD2 receptor affinity and partial agonist activity at h5-HT1A receptors. (iii) Several 'typical' and some putatively 'atypical' antipsychotic agents displayed antagonist properties at h5-HT1A sites with generally much lower affinity than at hD2 dopamine receptors. It is suggested that agonist activity at 5-HT1A receptors may be of utility for certain antipsychotic agents.