Arginine8-vasopressin (AVP) has been shown repeatedly to affect learning and memory and to maintain tolerance to ethanol if the brain serotonin and catecholamine systems are intact. In the present study, 5,7-dihydroxytryptamine (5,7-DHT) was injected intracerebroventricularly to disrupt serotonergic projections from the raphe to the forebrain. This resulted in a marked decrease in 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) immunoreactivity in the terminal areas of the septum and the hippocampus, but not in the serotonin-containing neuronal cell bodies in the raphe nuclei. In control rats, tolerance to the motor-impairing effects of ethanol lasted for only 5 days after the cessation of ethanol treatment but could be maintained indefinitely for as long as AVP was given. In the 5,7-dihydroxytryptamine-lesioned rats, AVP was unable to maintain the tolerance. Continuous intracerebroventricular infusion of 5-HT restored the ability of AVP to maintain ethanol tolerance in the lesioned rats. A selective 5-HT2 agonist (alpha-methylserotonin) was equally effective, and a 5-HT3 receptor agonist (2-methylserotonin) was slightly less effective, but the 5-HT1A agonist dipropylaminotetralin (8-hydroxy-dipropylaminotetralin) was totally ineffective in this respect. The results indicate selective involvement of brain 5-HT2 and possibly 5-HT3 receptors in mediating AVP maintenance of tolerance to ethanol but do not pinpoint their specific loci or roles.