The effects of serotonin (5-HT) receptor agonists and antagonists on sympathetic nervous discharge (SND) recorded from the external carotid and splanchnic nerves were studied in baroreceptor-denervated cats. Intravenous administration of the 5-HT antagonists methysergide (0.025-1.6 mg/kg), metergoline (0.01-0.32 mg/kg), cyproheptadine (0.05-1.6 mg/kg) and cinanserin (0.2-6.4 mg/Kg) was associated with a prolonged dose-related inhibition of SND. Maximum reductions in SND produced by methysergide, metergoline, cyproheptadine and cinanserin were 90, 72, 71 and 50%, respectively. In contrast, a progressive increase in SND was observed in vehicle control animals. Methysergide, metergoline and cyproheptadine failed to reduce SND in cats pretreated with the 5-HT synthesis inhibitor p-chlorophenylalanine. Clonidine (20 micrograms/kg i.v.) significantly inhibited SND (-73%) in p-chlorophenylalanine-treated cats. The selective 5-HT agonists 5-methoxydimethyltryptamine and lisuride also reduced SND in a dose-dependent manner. The time course of the depressor effects of 5-methoxydimethyltryptamine and lisuride correlate well to their ability to inhibit 5-HT cell firing. These data indicate that 5-HT agonists which act presynaptically to inhibit 5-HT cell firing and antagonists which act postsynaptically to block the effect of synaptically released 5-HT both mediate a central reduction in SND. It is concluded that central 5-HT neurons facilitate transmission in central sympathetic pathways.