We evaluated whether pericardial injections of the retrograde tracers cholera toxin subunit B (CTb) or Fast Blue (FB) reliably labelled cardiac vagal pre-ganglionic neurons. Injections of CTb into the pericardial space of the rat labelled neurons in both the external and compact formations of the nucleus ambiguus. Most labelled neurons were found in the compact formation of the nucleus ambiguus, and the majority of these, and only these, expressed immunoreactivity for calcitonin gene-related peptide. This distribution of labelled neurons and their immunohistochemical properties is characteristic of oesophageal motoneurons. Examination of the oesophagus following intra-pericardial CTb applications revealed strong labelling of motor end plates within the skeletal muscle of the thoracic but not the abdominal oesophagus. When a second retrograde tracer, FB, was injected into the abdominal oesophagus, labelled somata were found adjacent to CTb-labelled neurons in the compact formation of the nucleus ambiguus. No co-localisation of tracers was found, but identical proportions of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) immunoreactivity were observed in both groups of neurons. FB injected into the pericardial space labelled intra-cardiac neurons but not brainstem neurons. We conclude that intra-pericardial, and perhaps sub-epicardial, injections of some retrograde tracers are likely to label a subset of oesophageal, as well as cardiac, vagal motor neurons in the brainstem.