The rat medial prefrontal cortex (PFC) receives a serotoninergic (5-HT) innervation which originates from the mesencephalic raphe nuclei. In the present study we determined the influence of the 5-HT ascending systems on the spontaneous and evoked activity of PFC neurons in anesthetized rats. Stimulation of the dorsal (DRN) and of the median raphe (MRN) nuclei inhibited the spontaneous activity of 35.0% and 52.8% of the PFC cells tested (mean duration of the inhibition: 75.5 and 82.2 ms, respectively). These inhibitory responses are likely mediated by the 5-HT-containing neurons since they were decreased markedly following selective destruction of ascending 5-HT pathways induced by local injections of 5,7-dihydroxytryptamine. Moreover, the inhibitory effect of MRN stimulation could be blocked by systemic administration of the 5-HT2 receptor antagonists: ketanserin and ritanserin. The effects of MRN stimulation on two types of evoked responses were studied. The excitatory responses of PFC neurons induced by the stimulation of the mediodorsal nucleus of the thalamus (MD) were inhibited by MRN stimulation applied before that of MD. Similarly, the activation of PFC cells induced by a noxious tail pinch was suppressed by a concomitant stimulation of the MRN. These results indicate that 5-HT neurons exert an inhibitory control on spontaneous or evoked activity in the rat PFC.