Stress-induced learned helplessness in animals serves as a model of behavioral depression and other stress-related disorders. Our recent report that repeated stress prolongs the duration of learned helplessness behavior in rats may be important since acute and recurrent disorders may have different responsive mechanisms. To examine the role of serotonergic (5HT) mechanisms in such behavior, we studied the expression of 5HT2A receptors in different brain areas of rats, and further investigated whether the alterations in expression of 5HT2A receptors are similar after single versus repeated stress. Rats exposed to inescapable shock once on day 1, or twice, on day 1 and day 7, were tested for escape latency on days 2 and 4, or day 14, respectively. Higher escape latencies were observed on day 2 after single, and on day 14 after repeated shock. Whereas the single-stress paradigm produced a significant decrease of 5HT2A receptor mRNA and protein expression in hippocampus of non-learned helpless and learned helpless rats as compared with tested controls, repeated stress resulted in increase in frontal cortex but decrease in hippocampus and hypothalamus of learned helpless rats only, as compared with tested control rats. These results demonstrate differential regulation of 5HT2A receptors in LH rats after single and repeated stress, which may be critical in the pathophysiology of depression/other stress-related disorders. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.