Experiments were undertaken to characterize pharmacologically a neuronal receptor to 5-HT in guinea pig ileum. Segments of longitudinal muscle myenteric plexus preparations were treated with phenoxybenzamine and exposed to submaximal electrical field stimulation to evoke the cholinergically mediated "twitch" response. The ability of 5-HT to enhance the submaximal twitch response was investigated. Results using several antagonists (metergoline, spiperone, cyanopindolol, N-acetyl-5-hydroxytryptophyl-5-hydroxytryptophan amide, N-hexanoyl-5-hydroxytryptophyl-5-hydroxytryptophan amide, ICS 205-930, GR 38032F, MDL 72222 and cocaine) indicate that 5-HT (3 X 10(-10) to 1 x 10(-7) M) agonizes a novel 5-HT receptor site distinct from the 5-HT1, 5-HT2, 5-HT3 and 5-HT1P subtypes as well as the M receptor. The receptor site is located neuronally and is characterized positively by a low affinity for ICS 205-930 (pA2 = 6.5 vs. 5-HT) and by the following order of agonist potency: 5-HT greater than 5-methoxytryptamine greater than BRL 24924 greater than alpha-methyl-5-hydroxytryptamine greater than zacopride = cisapride = 5-carboxamidotryptamine. Agonist-independent pA2 estimates for ICS 205-930 (6.3-6.6) suggest a single site of agonism. 2-Methyl-5-hydroxytryptamine and 5-hydroxyindalpine were inactive at 1 x 10(-5) M either as agonists or antagonists. Thus, the receptor site exhibits a pharmacological profile similar to that characterizing the recently described 5-HT4 [corrected] receptor. Unlike Gaddum's M receptor, which equates with the 5-HT3 [corrected] receptor, the putative 5-HT4 [corrected] receptor site exhibits a higher sensitivity to agonism by 5-HT and is resistant to antagonism by cocaine.