1. Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings were made from pairs of neurones in cell cultures of rat myenteric neurones. In some pairs, action potentials evoked in the first neurone evoked a slow excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP) in the second neurone. 2. Action potentials at a frequency of at least 5 Hz were required to evoked slow EPSPs. In one group of cells, the slow EPSP followed a series of nicotinic fast EPSPs; in another group, fast EPSPs did not precede the slow EPSP. 3. The slow EPSPs were 2-16 mV in amplitude and were accompanied by decreased resting potassium conductance. 4. Most (17/28) neurones in which action potentials evoked only slow EPSPs in a follower cell contained substance P (SP)-like immunoreactivity; they were not immunoreactive for 5-hydroxytryptamine (0/15) or vasoactive intestinal peptide (0/22). 5. Postsynaptic responses to SP, neurokinin A and a synthetic tachykinin [( pGlu6, Pro9]SP6-11) mimicked the slow EPSPs. The non-tachykinin peptide vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP), which was not found in neurones that evoked only slow EPSPs, also mimicked the slow EPSPs. Responsiveness to SP decreased significantly during slow EPSPs. 6. Desensitization to either SP or VIP reduced or prevented the slow EPSPs and also responses to each other. Two proposed antagonists of SP receptors, [D-Arg1, D-Pro2,D-Trp7,9,Leu11]substance P and [D-Arg1,D-Trp7,9,Leu11]substance P, did not affect the slow EPSPs significantly. 7. Antisera against SP reversibly blocked or reduced slow EPSPs evoked by eight of thirteen presynaptic neurones that evoked slow EPSPs without evoking fast EPSPs. All eight of the presynaptic neurones that evoked anti-SP-sensitive slow EPSPs contained SP-like immunoreactivity. None of the presynaptic neurones that evoked anti-SP-insensitive slow EPSPs contained detectable SP-like immunoreactivity. Normal sera and anti-VIP antisera did not alter the slow EPSPs detectably. 8. It is concluded that subsets of myenteric neurones release an SP-like transmitter to evoke slow EPSPs. These neurones appear to lack a 'classical' neurotransmitter that evokes fast EPSPs.