The binding profile of [3H]8-hydroxy-2-(di-N-propylamino)-tetralin ([3H]8-OH-DPAT) to serotonin1A (5-HT1A) sites in rat hippocampal, frontocortical and striatal membranes has been compared. In these regions, [3H]8-OH-DPAT labels both a high and a low-affinity binding site; the affinity values for each of the two sites are comparable in the different brain regions, but have different maximal capacity. By modifying the experimental conditions in a series of hippocampal membrane preparations, reciprocal changes in the proportion of the two sites were observed suggesting that they represent, at least in this region, different conformations or affinity states of a single receptor protein. In contrast to the lower affinity state, it appears that the high-affinity state is stabilized by coupling with a G-protein. Evidence supporting this statement is provided by addition of the guanine nucleotide Gpp(NH)p, breakage of labile disulfide bonds using N-ethylmaleimide and increasing membrane rigidity with ascorbate-induced lipid peroxidation, conditions which all reduced the density of receptors in the high-affinity state. Moreover, the high-affinity state appears to be stabilized at the expense of the lower affinity state in the presence of Mn2+. On the other hand, a complete shift to the low-affinity binding state was observed after a 24 h in vivo treatment with inhibitors of monoamine oxidase A (phenelzine or clorgyline) but not of monoamine oxidase B (deprenyl). This disappearance of the high-affinity state with a concomitant increase in the binding capacity of the low-affinity state was reproduced by inhibiting monoamine oxidase A in vitro, as well as by reducing preincubation washout periods. Also, competitors of the [3H]8-OH-DPAT binding site, such as serotonin and unlabelled 8-OH-DPAT, display two affinity states while others like (+/-)-propranolol, tryptamine and spiperone recognize a single affinity component. These results suggest that the 5-HT1A binding site may exhibit at least two different affinity states depending upon its microenvironment and the intrinsic activity of the ligand used.