Abstract The ionic mechanism of the inhibitory effect of serotonin was investigated in vitro in the CA1 region of the rat hippocampus by extra- and intracellular recordings. Local or bath applications of serotonin induced a long-lasting reduction of extracellularly recorded synaptic potentials and orthodromic population spikes without affecting the afferent volley or the antidromic population spike. Serotonin can also reduce the frequency of occurrence of spontaneous excitatory and inhibitory postsynaptic potentials without any reduction of input resistance of the pyramidal neuron. During the response to serotonin, the conductance increase evoked by GABA, the inhibitory neurotransmitter, was not changed. A direct postsynaptic effect of serotonin was demonstrated: local or bath applications of serotonin induced a tetrodotoxin-resistant hyperpolarization and conductance increase. The conductance change was not reduced by manual clamp of the neurons to the control resting membrane potential; therefore, a possible involvement of the sodium-potassium electrogenic pump is unlikely. When neurons were loaded with chloride, serotonin could still induce a hyperpolarization with an apparent reversal more negative than the resting membrane potential. When neurons were loaded with caesium, the hyperpolarization and the conductance increase evoked by serotonin were blocked. It is therefore concluded that serotonin increases potassium permeability. Similar effects were induced by a 5-HT1A ligand. The slow afterhyperpolarization was reduced by serotonin; the calcium spike was reduced at the same time. In caesium loaded neurons, the spike duration was not modified by serotonin. In the presence of extracellular caesium (4–5 mM), the serotonin-induced hyperpolarization and the conductance change were blocked, but the effect of serotonin on calcium spikes persisted. Tetraethylammonium (5–10 mM) or 4-aminopyridine (0.5 mM) had no effect on the response to serotonin. These data indicate that serotonin has a postsynaptic inhibitory action by an activating potassium conductance. The possibility of a regulation of calcium currents is discussed. The possible role of serotonin on intrinsic synaptic transmission is also discussed.