The present study investigates the role of serotonin in respiratory recovery after spinal cord injury. Experiments were conducted on C(2) spinal cord hemisected, anesthetized, vagotomized, paralyzed, and artificially ventilated rats in which end-tidal CO(2) was monitored and maintained. Before drug administration, the phrenic nerve ipsilateral to hemisection showed no respiratory-related activity due to the disruption of the descending bulbospinal respiratory pathways by spinal cord hemisection. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), a serotonin precursor, was administrated intravenously. 5-HTP induced time- and dose-dependent increases in respiratory recovery in the phrenic nerve ipsilateral to hemisection. Although the 5-HTP-induced recovery was initially accompanied by an increase in activity in the contralateral phrenic nerve, suggesting an increase in descending respiratory drive, the recovery persisted well after activity in the contralateral nerve returned to predrug levels. 5-HTP-induced effects were reversed by a serotonin receptor antagonist, methysergide. Because experiments were conducted on animals subjected to C(2) spinal cord hemisection, the recovery was most likely mediated by the activation of a latent respiratory pathway spared by the spinal cord injury. The results suggest that serotonin is an important neuromodulator in the unmasking of the latent respiratory pathway after spinal cord injury. In addition, the results also suggest that the maintenance of 5-HTP-induced respiratory recovery may not require a continuous enhancement of central respiratory drive.