The effects of oleamide, an amidated lipid isolated from the cerebrospinal fluid of sleep-deprived cats, on serotonin receptor-mediated responses were investigated in cultured mammalian cells. In rat P11 cells, which endogenously express the 5-hydroxytryptamine2A (5HT2A) receptor, oleamide significantly potentiated 5HT-induced phosphoinositide hydrolysis. In HeLa cells expressing the 5HT7 receptor subtype, oleamide caused a concentration-dependent increase in cAMP accumulation but with lower efficacy than that observed by 5HT. This effect was not observed in untransfected HeLa cells. Clozapine did not prevent the increase in cAMP elicited by oleamide, and ketanserin caused an approximately 65% decrease. In the presence of 5HT, oleamide had the opposite effect on cAMP, causing insurmountable antagonism of the concentration-effect curve to 5HT, but had no effect on cAMP levels elicited by isoproterenol or forskolin. These results indicate that oleamide can modulate 5HT-mediated signal transduction at different subtypes of mammalian 5HT receptors. Additionally, our data indicate that oleamide acts at an apparent allosteric site on the 5HT7 receptor and elicits functional responses via activation of this site. This represents a unique mechanism of activation for 5HT G protein-coupled receptors and suggests that G protein-coupled neurotransmitter receptors may act like their iontropic counterparts (i.e., gamma-aminobutyric acid type A receptors) in that there may be several binding sites on the receptor that regulate functional activity with varying efficacies.