Many stimuli, including social aggression, activate endocrine stress mechanisms, presumably mediated or modulated by central neurotransmitters. To determine the effects of aggression on central neurochemistry, reproductively active male Anolis carolinensis were paired and allowed to establish social dominance relationships. While combatants cohabited, the fight losers invariably became socially subordinate and displayed darker color, selection of lower perch sites, and lower body posture than the winners. After one hour, one day, one week, or one month of cohabitation animals were sacrificed. Each member of a pair was killed at approximately the same time, along with animals kept isolated as controls. Diencephalon, non-optic lobe midbrain and hindbrain were analyzed for indoleamines, catecholamines and metabolites by coulochem electrode array HPLC. Early activation (by one hour) of the serotonergic system in subordinate male lizards was indicated by decreased serotonin (5-HT), increased 5-hydroxy-indoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) levels and 5-HIAA/5-HT ratio. Substrate 5-hydroxy-tryptophan (5-HTP) also increased in losing males, suggesting enhanced production as well as turnover. Significant 5-HTP and 5-HIAA/5-HT increases for subordinate males, compared with levels in control and dominant males, were greatest at one hour and diminished thereafter. This pattern of indoleamine system activation is consistent with stress-induced stimulation of the serotonergic system and prolonged activation of the stress response in subordinate animals, as well as serotonergic inhibition of aggression. In contrast with serotonin, subordinate males did not have increased catecholamine system activation following one hour of interaction. The ratio of DOPAC/dopamine was lower following one hour of interaction in subordinate males. Adrenergic system activation, indicated by metanephrine/epinephrine ratio, increased with time in losing males, except that after one month of cohabitation, turnover returned to levels that equaled those of control animals. Noradrenergic metabolite MHPG, as well as MHPG/NE ratio, were significantly reduced in dominant males at one hour and one week. Changes in adrenergic system activation, not seen in or registered by noradrenergic systems, indicate a possible role for central epinephrine in social stress accommodation.