Single-unit activity of serotonergic neurons in the nuclei raphe obscurus (NRO) and raphe pallidus (NRP) were recorded in conjunction with heart rate in freely moving cats in response to systemic administration of vasoactive drugs and to graded haemorrhage. Bolus administration of phenylephrine hydrochloride and sodium nitroprusside (20 microg/kg, i.v.) produced a marked, transient reflex bradycardia (-42 b.p.m.) and tachycardia (+60 b.p.m.), respectively. The activity of NRO/NRP serotonergic neurons remained unchanged after phenylephrine and nitroprusside administration. The administration of hydralazine (1 mg/kg, i.v.), a long-acting vasodilator, produced sustained tachycardia (+60 b.p.m.), which was not accompanied by changes in neuronal activity, despite prolonged reflex activation of the sympathetic nervous system. The initial withdrawal of up to 15% of total blood volume increased heart rate (+12 b.p.m.), whereas the removal of 22.5% of total blood decreased heart rate (-44 b.p.m.). The activity of NRO/NRP serotonergic neurons remained unaltered throughout graded haemorrhage trials, despite the changes in sympathetic outflow. Thus, serotonergic NRO and NRP neurons appear to be insensitive to alterations in blood pressure and baroreceptor activity, and this lack of responsiveness does not support a specific role for these cells in cardiovascular regulation. Furthermore, these neurons do not appear to be involved in physiological mechanisms underlying alterations in autonomic outflow invoked by hypertension and hypotension. Taken within the context of our previous work, the present data suggest that medullary serotonergic neurons may modulate autonomic outflow, but only in relation to their primary role in motor control.