The effect of the biogenic amines octopamine and serotonin, and of both amines combined (cocktails) on transmitter release at neuromuscular junctions of two crustaceans was studied. octopamine (10(-8) mol l(-1) to 10(-6) mol l(-1)) either enhanced or decreased evoked transmitter release through presynaptic effects. The results were identical for the slow and the fast excitor in the closer muscle of the crab, and for the excitor in the opener muscle of the crayfish. Application of serotonin always resulted in a strong increase of release. However, this potentiating effect of serotonin was reduced in strength by subsequent application of cocktails consisting of serotonin and octopamine. In all experiments, a cocktail of serotonin and octopamine was less effective than serotonin alone. The decrease in the mean quantal content m by octopamine was due to a reduction of the probability of release p. Since both amines are synthesized in the central nervous system and are released from neurohaemal organs into the haemolymph bathing the neuromuscular junctions, the results suggest that the two amines, when present together, modulate transmitter release in an antagonistic way, and that the level of the two determines synaptic efficacy.