In this study, we examined the localization of the 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT)1A receptors mediating hypothermia in the rat, evaluated the pharmacological specificity of this response and examined the influence of a series of novel 5-HT1A receptor ligands upon core temperature. Administered s.c., 8-hydroxy-(2-di-n-propylamino)tetralin hydrobromide (8-OH-DPAT), an agonist at both pre- and postsynaptic 5-HT1A receptors, elicited pronounced hypothermia. In contrast, BMY 7378, which shows low efficacy at postsynaptic 5-HT1A receptors but high efficacy at presynaptic 5-HT1A receptors, elicited only mild hypothermia. Similarly, 8-OH-DPAT was more efficacious than BMY 7378 in eliciting corticosterone secretion, a response mediated by postsynaptic 5-HT1A receptors, whereas BMY 7378 was as efficacious as 8-OH-DPAT in inhibiting striatal accumulation of 5-hydroxytryptophan, a response mediated by presynaptic 5-HT1A receptors. These data suggest, by analogy, that postsynaptic 5-HT1A receptors mediate hypothermia, an interpretation supported by the observation that destruction of central 5-HT neurons with 5,7-dihydroxytryptamine failed to reduce 8-OH-DPAT-induced hypothermia (DIH). Agonists at 5-HT1B, 5-HT1C, 5-HT2 and/or 5-HT3 receptors did not elicit hypothermia, and drugs releasing 5-HT elicited hyperthermia. In contrast, DIH was fully mimicked by the novel 5-HT1A receptors agonists, eltoprazine, WY 48,723, MDL 72832, tandospirone, S 14671, S 14506 and WY 50,324, whereas the novel partial agonist, zalospirone, was less efficacious. DIH was blocked by (-)-alprenolol, (+/-)-pindolol and the novel beta-blocker, (-)-tertatolol, which also has high affinity for 5-HT1A receptors; in distinction, betaxolol and ICI 118,551, antagonists at beta-1 and beta-2 adrenoceptors, respectively, were inactive. Spiperone, NAN-190 and BMY 7378 also inhibited DIH whereas ritanserin, SCH 39166, raclopride and prazosin, antagonists at 5-HT2 receptors, D1 and D2 dopamine receptors and alpha-1 adrenoceptors, respectively, were inactive. The novel 5-HT1A antagonists, WAY 100,135, MDL 73005 EF and (very potently) SDZ 216-525 all blocked DIH. Potency for induction of hypothermia and inhibition of DIH correlated well with affinity for 5-HT1A binding sites. In conclusion, hypothermia is a highly specific and sensitive response to activation of postsynaptic 5-HT1A receptors. Furthermore, DIH is inhibited by their selective blockade. At postsynaptic 5-HT1A receptors mediating hypothermia, eltoprazine, WY 48,723, MDL 72832 and tandospirone are agonists, zalospirone is a partial agonist and (-)-tertatolol, WAY 100,135, MDL 73005 EF and SDZ 216-525 are antagonists.