In cats, putative serotonergic neurons (PSNs) recorded from the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) across the sleep-wake cycle exhibit the so-called rapid eye movement sleep-off (REM-off) discharge pattern. Since, the sleep-wake discharge patterns of DRN neurons in behaving rats is poorly known, the present study examined this neuronal populations. The PSNs recorded in this study exhibited: (1) progressive decrease in discharge rate from waking to NREM to REM sleep; (2) long action potential duration, and (3) reduction of discharge rate after systemic administration of a selective 5-HT(1A) agonist, (+/-)-8-hydroxy-2-(di-n-propylamino) tetralin hydrobromide (8-OH-DPAT). Evidence supports the hypothesis that NREM sleep is modulated by thermoregulatory mechanisms localized in the preoptic area and adjacent basal forebrain (POA/BF). We previously reported that POA/BF warming suppresses the discharge of wake-promoting neurons in the posterior hypothalamus and the basal forebrain. Since the DRN is one component of the brainstem arousal system and receives projections from POA/BF, we examined the effects of local POA/BF warming by 1.5-2.0 degrees C during waking on the discharge of DRN neurons. POA/BF warming reduced the discharge in 14 of 19 PSNs and in 12 of 17 other wake-related neurons in the DRN. DRN neuronal discharge reduction occurred without accompanying EEG frequency or behavioral changes. These results suggest that PSNs recorded in DRN in unrestrained and unanesthetized rats exhibit a "wake-active REM-off" discharge pattern and further support the hypothesis that the POA/BF warm-sensitive hypnogenic system induces sleep by a coordinated inhibition of multiple arousal systems including that modulated by the DRN.