The neurotransmitter serotonin (5HT) activates a variety of second messenger signaling systems and through them indirectly regulates the function of ion channels. Serotonin also activates ion channels directly, suggesting that it may also mediate rapid, excitatory responses. A complementary DNA clone containing the coding sequence of one of these rapidly responding channels, a 5HT3 subtype of the serotonin receptor, has been isolated by screening a neuroblastoma expression library for functional expression of serotonin-gated currents in Xenopus oocytes. The predicted protein product has many of the features shared by other members of the ligand-gated ion channel family. The pharmacological and electrophysiological characteristics of the cloned receptor are largely consistent with the properties of native 5HT 3 receptors. Messenger RNA encoding this receptor is found in the brain, spinal cord, and heart. This receptor defines a new class of excitatory ligand-gated channels.