Zolpidem [N,N,6-trimethyl-2-(4-methylphenyl)imidazo[1,2-a]pyridine-3-acetamide hemitartrate] is reported to be a rapid onset, short duration hypnotic that interacts at the benzodiazepine recognition site. The present report establishes the neuropsychopharmacological profile of zolpidem and compares it with those of benzodiazepine hypnotics. Although in mice the effects of zolpidem are qualitatively similar to those of midazolam, triazolam and flunitrazepam, sedation with zolpidem occurs at doses 10 and 20 times lower than those inducing anticonvulsant and myorelaxant effects, respectively. In contrast, the benzodiazepines studied induce sedation at doses causing myorelaxation and which are 2 to 6 times superior to those antagonizing pentetrazole-induced convulsions. In the rat, zolpidem induces sleep (as indicated behaviorally and electrocorticographically) and displays anticonflict activity in a punished drinking paradigm, as do the benzodiazepines. However, whereas benzodiazepine hypnotics induce EEG sleep patterns in curarized rats at doses similar or inferior to those active in the conflict test (in freely moving animals), the hypnotic effect of zolpidem is seen at doses 10 times lower than those producing an anticonflict effect. Moreover, a qualitative difference between the effects of zolpidem and benzodiazepines is observed in electrocorticographic recordings obtained in curarized rats: electrocorticographic hypersynchronization induced by zolpidem is dominated by the energy increase within the 2 to 4 Hz band whereas the benzodiazepines increase predominantly energy levels within the 12 to 14 Hz band. Studies of the sleep-wakefulness cycle in the rat and the cat revealed that hypnotic doses of zolpidem do not alter the pattern of physiological sleep, although elevated doses of the drug decrease paradoxical sleep and increase slow wave sleep. In rats trained to discriminate chlordiazepoxide, zolpidem fails to generalize with the chlordiazepoxide-associated lever indicating that the compound and benzodiazepines do not share the same discriminative stimulus properties. Nevertheless, the anticonvulsant, hypnotic, myorelaxant and anticonflict effects of zolpidem are antagonized by benzodiazepine receptor antagonist Ro 15-1788 and CGS 8216 indicating an involvement of the benzodiazepine recognition site in the action of this drug. The highly selective sedative effect of zolpidem (as compared to myorelaxant and anticonvulsant effects) suggests that it may possess a specificity for certain subtypes of benzodiazepine receptors.