The mechanism of action of conventional antidepressants (e.g. imipramine) has been linked to modulation of central monoamine systems. Substance P (NK1) receptor antagonists may have antidepressant and anxiolytic effects in patients with major depressive disorder and high anxiety but, unlike conventional antidepressants, are independent of activity at monoamine reuptake sites, transporters, receptors, or monoamine oxidase. To investigate the possibility that substance P receptor antagonists influence central monoamine systems indirectly, we have compared the effects of chronic administration of imipramine with that of the substance P receptor antagonist L-760735 on the spontaneous firing activity of locus coeruleus neurones. Electrophysiological recordings were made from brain slices prepared from guinea-pigs that had been dosed orally every day for 4 weeks with either L-760735 (3 mg/kg), imipramine (10 mg/kg), or vehicle (water), or naive animals. Chronic, but not acute, treatment with the substance P receptor antagonist L-760735, induced burst firing of neurones in the locus coeruleus. This effect resembles that of the conventional antidepressant imipramine. However, their effects are dissociable since, in contrast to chronic imipramine treatment, chronic L-760735 treatment does not cause functional desensitisation of somatic alpha2 adrenoceptors. The mechanism by which chronic substance P receptor antagonist or conventional antidepressant treatment influences the pattern of firing activity of norepinephrine neurones remains to be elucidated. However, an indirect action in the periphery or distant brain nuclei has been excluded by the use of the in vitro slice preparation, suggesting a local site of action in the locus coeruleus.