Serotonin is a major modulator of behavior in vertebrates and invertebrates and deficiencies in the serotonergic system account for several behavioral disorders in humans. The small numbers of serotonergic central neurons of vertebrates and invertebrates produce their effects by use of two modes of secretion: from synaptic terminals, acting locally in "hard wired" circuits, and from extrasynaptic axonal and somatodendritic release sites in the absence of postsynaptic targets, producing paracrine effects. In this paper, we review the evidence of synaptic and extrasynaptic release of serotonin and the mechanisms underlying each secretion mode by combining evidence from vertebrates and invertebrates. Particular emphasis is given to somatic secretion of serotonin by central neurons. Most of the mechanisms of serotonin release have been elucidated in cultured synapses made by Retzius neurons from the central nervous system of the leech. Serotonin release from synaptic terminals occurs from clear and dense core vesicles at active zones upon depolarization. In general, synaptic serotonin release is similar to release of acetylcholine in the neuromuscular junction. The soma of Retzius neurons releases serotonin from clusters of dense core vesicles in the absence of active zones. This type of secretion is dependent of the stimulation frequency, on L-type calcium channel activation and on calcium-induced calcium release. The characteristics of somatic secretion of serotonin in Retzius neurons are similar to those of somatic secretion of dopamine and peptides by other neuron types. In general, somatic secretion by neurons is different from transmitter release from clear vesicles at synapses and similar to secretion by excitable endocrine cells.