The central nervous system of the lamprey contains serotonergic (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) neurones both in the spinal cord and in the brainstem. Endogenously released 5-HT from these systems modulates the pattern of fictive locomotion induced in the in vitro preparation; the burst rate is lowered and burst discharges become longer and of higher intensity. Local application of 5-HT, mimicking activation of the 5-HT systems, has a specific effect on the late phase of the afterhyperpolarization (AHP) in motoneurones and interneurones. 5-HT markedly reduces the amplitude of the late AHP without affecting passive membrane properties or the shape or threshold of the action potential. This 5-HT effect appears to result from a direct action on the calcium-dependent potassium channels underlying the late phase of the AHP. A reduction of the amplitude of the AHP will result in altered spike discharge characteristics, with potentiation of the response (discharge rate) to a given excitatory input in all neurones influenced by 5-HT. It is suggested that the modulatory effect of 5-HT on fictive locomotion can be attributed to its action on the late AHP and thereby to the potentiation of excitability in excitatory and inhibitory interneurones in the generator circuitry. This has been further corroborated in computer simulation studies of a network model, where the action of 5-HT was simulated by decreasing AHP amplitude, resulting in a slowing of the rhythm analogous to the effect demonstrated experimentally.