1. The excitation of lumbar motoneurons by reticulospinal axons traveling in the medial longitudinal fasciculus (MLF) was investigated in the newborn rat using intracellular recordings from lumbar motoneurons in an in vitro preparation of the brain stem and spinal cord. The tracer DiI (1,1'-dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethylindocarbocyanine) was introduced into the MLF of 6-day-old littermate rats that had been fixed with paraformaldehyde to evaluate the anatomic extent of this developing pathway. 2. Fibers labeled from the MLF by DiI were present in the cervical ventral and lateral white matter and a smaller number of labeled fibers extended to the lumbar enlargement. Patches of sparse terminal labeling were seen in the lumbar ventral gray. 3. In the in vitro preparation of the brain stem and spinal cord, MLF stimulation excited motoneurons through long-latency pathways in most motoneurons and through both short-(< 40 ms) and long-latency connections in 16 of 40 motoneurons studied. Short- and longer-latency components of the excitatory response were evaluated using mephenesin to reduce activity in polysynaptic pathways. 4. Paired-pulse stimulation of the MLF revealed a modest temporal facilitation of the short-latency excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP) at short interstimulus intervals (20-200 ms). Trains of stimulation at longer interstimulus intervals (1-30 s) resulted in a depression of EPSP amplitude. The time course of the synaptic depression was compared with that found in EPSPs resulting from paired-pulse stimulation of the dorsal root and found to be comparable. 5. The short-latency MLF EPSP was reversibly blocked by 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline (CNQX), an antagonist of non-N-methyl-D-aspartate glutamate receptors, with a small CNQX-resistant component. Longer-latency components of the MLF EPSP were also blocked by CNQX, and some late components of the PSP were sensitive to strychnine. MLF activation of multiple polysynaptic pathways in the spinal cord is discussed.