Reduced pregnane neurosteroids such as allopregnanolone and pregnanolone are potent neuromodulators able to affect a number of membrane receptors, including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)(A), N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA), 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT)(3), and sigma(1) receptors. The present study used a drug discrimination procedure to assess further the receptor effects of pregnanolone in vivo. Rats were trained to discriminate 5 mg/kg pregnanolone from saline in a two-lever operant task maintained by food reinforcement. The opiate agonist morphine and the negative GABA(A) modulator dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate did not substitute for pregnanolone. All of the GABA(A) positive modulators tested (allopregnanolone, epipregnanolone, androsterone, pentobarbital, midazolam, and zolpidem) dose dependently substituted for pregnanolone. The direct GABA-site agonists 4,5,6,7-tetrahydroisoxazolo[4,5-c]pyridin-3-ol and muscimol failed to substitute for pregnanolone. Ethanol and the sigma(1) receptor agonist SKF 10047 fully substituted for pregnanolone, and the NMDA antagonist MK-801 partially substituted for pregnanolone. The 5-HT(3) antagonist tropisetron did not substitute at any dose tested. The 5-HT(3) agonist SR 57227A reached full substitution, whereas the other 5-HT(3) agonist tested, m-chlorophenylbiguanide, produced partial substitution. These results suggest that positive GABA(A) modulation, but not direct agonism, confers a discriminative stimulus effect similar to pregnanolone. Additionally, antagonism of NMDA receptors and activation of 5-HT(3) and sigma(1) receptors modulate stimulus effects similar to the pregnanolone cue. Overall, the data suggest that pregnanolone produces discriminative stimulus effects representative of a wide-spectrum sedative hypnotic.