The association of serotonin with the alimentary canal of Locusta migratoria was investigated using immunohistochemistry and high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) coupled to electrochemical detection. Serotonin-like immunoreactive processes were differentially distributed between and within three regions of the alimentary canal; the foregut, midgut and hindgut. The midgut possessed the most serotonin-like immunoreactive processes, while the hindgut contained only a few immunoreactive processes. Using HPLC coupled to electrochemical detection the serotonin content was highest in the midgut followed by the foregut and hindgut. The physiological response of the midgut to serotonin as well as to the combination of serotonin and proctolin was also examined. It was found that the application of serotonin to the midgut leads to a dose-dependent reduction in tonus of the circular muscles. Serotonin was also able to inhibit a proctolin-induced contraction of the midgut in a dose-dependent manner. The physiological and pharmacological properties of serotonin agonists and antagonists on the midgut were also investigated. The results indicate that alpha-methyl 5-HT was the most effective agonist leading to a 108% relaxation at 10(-9) M compared to that caused by the same serotonin concentration. Among several serotonin receptor antagonists tested, mianserin was the most potent. The application of mianserin at 10(-5) M in combination with 5x10(-6) M serotonin resulted in a 66% reduction of the serotonin-induced relaxation of midgut muscle. The serotonin antagonist cyproheptadine was less effective leading to a 39% reduction of the 5x10(-6) M serotonin-induced relaxation. Ketanserin was a weak antagonist.