Octopamine is highly concentrated in neurones of several invertebrate species. Unlike in mammals, octopaminergic neurones in invertebrates are spatially separated from catecholaminergic neurons. In identified nerve cells of Aplysia, however, this amine coexists with other putative neurotransmitters. Octopamine is synthesized in nerves from tyrosine and tyramine and metabolised mainly by monoamine oxidase. When lobster nerves are depolarized, octopamine is liberated by a Ca2+-dependent process. A specific adenylate cyclase is stimulated by octopamine in several invertebrates to activate phosphorylase in the cockroach, induce a light-flash in firefly lattern or inhibit rhythm contractions in locust muscle. All of these observations provide compelling evidence that octopamine is a neurotransmitter in invertebrates. In mammals octopamine is localised in nerves in peripheral tissues and brain where it seems to coexist with noradrenaline, the catecholamine being present in much higher concentrations. Octopamine is released from nerves together with noradrenaline and it may under certain conditions modify the actions of the adrenergic neurotransmitter. Octopamine is present in unusually high concentrations in certain neurological and hepatic diseases and may have a pathophysiological role.