Several lines of evidence suggest that central serotoninergic neurons may mediate fatigue signals during prolonged exercise. In this study we examined the effects of diet and ambient temperature on peripheral modulators and indices of serotoninergic function and their relationship to exercise performance. Six well-trained cyclists participated, in randomised order, in two diet and exercise regimens each lasting 8 days and comprising four cycle tests to exhaustion at 70 % of maximum oxygen uptake. On days 1 and 5, subjects exercised to exhaustion to deplete muscle glycogen. For 3 days after the first depletion trial a diet providing 10 % of energy in the form of carbohydrate (CHO) was consumed (low CHO), and for 3 days after the second depletion trial a diet providing 80 % (high CHO) of energy as CHO was consumed, and each diet was followed by a performance trial at the same ambient temperature, either 10 degrees C or 30 degrees C (days 4 and 8). This schedule was repeated after 1 week, but performance trials were carried out at the other ambient temperature. In the cold, cycling time increased (P < 0.01) from 89.2 (78.0-129.5) min (median (range)) in the low CHO trial to 158.2 (116.9-165.6) min in the high CHO trial. In the heat, cycling time increased from 44.0 (31.8-51.4) min in the low CHO trial to 53.2 (50.2-82.2) min on the high CHO trial (P = 0.02). The serum prolactin (Prl) concentration was higher at exhaustion during the two trials in the heat than in the two trials in the cold. Serum Prl levels were unrelated to the purported peripheral modulators of serotoninergic function (plasma concentrations of total tryptophan (Trp), free Trp, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), free Trp/BCAA ratio and total Trp/BCAA ratio) but were significantly related to the rectal temperatures measured during the two trials in the heat. This finding provides indirect evidence that the serotoninergic system may be involved in fatigue during exercise under conditions of heat stress.