1. The present study was undertaken to ascertain whether 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) acting at either 5-HT3 or 5-HT4 receptors plays a significant role in motility reflexes in the guinea-pig small intestine. 2. An isolated segment of small intestine was opened along its mesenteric border and pinned, mucosa uppermost, in a three chambered organ bath so that the oral, middle and anal regions of a single preparation could be separately superfused. 3. Conventional intracellular recording methods were used to monitor the responses of the circular muscle in the oral or the anal end chambers when distension was applied in either of the other two chambers or the mucosal villi were compressed in the middle chamber. Drugs were added to the middle chamber. 4. 5-HT3 receptor antagonists (tropisetron, 0.1-10 microM; granisetron, 1 microM and BRL 46470, 1 microM) depressed the ascending excitatory reflex evoked by these stimuli but had no effect on the descending inhibitory reflex. The depression of the excitatory reflex was observed whether the reflex was evoked from the chamber containing the drug or was simply conducted, via interneurones, through this chamber. 5. The 5-HT4 receptor antagonist, SDZ 205-557 (1 microM), had no significant effect on either the ascending or descending reflex pathways. However, 5-HT4 receptors were present as cisapride (0.1 microM) significantly enhanced the ascending excitation without affecting the descending inhibition. This effect of cisapride was converted to a significant depression of the ascending reflex by SDZ 205-557. 6. The results suggest that 5-HT3, but not 5-HT4, receptors play an important role in the ascending excitatory reflex and that these receptors may be on interneurones in the reflex pathway.