We have analysed some behavioral, neuroendocrine and serotonergic consequences of a single (30-min) social defeat followed by 14-18 h of sensory contact with the aggressor, in Lewis rats, an inbred strain highly sensitive to chronic social stressors [Berton O. et al. (1998) Neuroscience 82, 147-159]. In addition, we have investigated how the aforementioned consequences are affected by pretreatment with the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, fluoxetine (7.5 mg/kg/day for 21 days). A single social defeat triggered hypophagia and body weight loss, and increased anxiety in the elevated plus-maze. It did not affect baseline plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone levels and renin activity, but decreased plasma corticosterone levels. On the other hand, the responses of the latter variables to subsequent acute forced swim stress were blunted (corticosterone) or amplified (adrenocorticotropic hormone, renin activity) by prior defeat. The density of hippocampal serotonin transporters, but not that of hippocampal serotonin-1A and cortical serotonin-2A receptors, was decreased by a single social defeat; in addition, neither tryptophan availability and serotonin synthesis/metabolism, nor serotonin-1A autoreceptor-mediated functions (inhibition of serotonin synthesis, hyperphagia) were affected. Fluoxetine pretreatment diminished social defeat-induced hypophagia, body weight loss and anxiety without affecting these variables in control animals. This pretreatment increased plasma corticosterone levels in resting and acutely stressed rats, but abolished social defeat-elicited corticosterone hyporesponsiveness to acute forced swim stress. Except for a decrease in midbrain serotonin transporter density, fluoxetine did not affect the other serotonergic indices analysed herein, i.e. serotonin-1A and serotonin-2A receptor densities, serotonin synthesis/metabolism. A single social defeat in Lewis rats produces behavioral and endocrine alterations that may model some aspects of human anxiety disorders. In this paradigm, prior fluoxetine treatment is endowed with adaptive behavioral, and possibly neuroendocrine, effects without affecting the key elements of central serotonergic systems analysed herein.