Diverse physiological actions have been reported for 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT, serotonin) in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and the nucleus accumbens (Acb) suggesting that the 5-HT innervation of these forebrain areas may be derived from different populations of neurons. We examined this possibility by mapping the distribution of 5-HT-immunoreactive (ir) and non-5-HT-ir neurons containing retrograde labeling following injections of different tracers into both these target regions. The analysis was focused in the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) of the midbrain, since 5-HT pathways to the MPFC and Acb primarily originate from this area. Volume microinjections of the fluorescent retrograde tracer, Fluoro-Gold (FG), were placed into the MPFC and microinjections of cholera toxin B subunit coupled to 15 nm gold particles (CT-Au) were placed into the Acb of the same animal. Sections through the DRN containing retrogradely labeled neurons were further processed for immunofluorescent localization of 5-HT using a rhodamine marker. Neurons retrogradely labeled from the Acb were greater in number overall than those projecting to the MPFC. In addition, Acb-projecting neurons extended into the lateral wings of the DRN, whereas MPFC-projecting neurons were more restricted to the midline. Both groups of retrogradely labeled neurons, however, were more numerous in the caudal aspect of the dorsal raphe nucleus and were scattered amongst 5-HT immunoreactive perikarya. Of 783 +/- 69 CT-Au labeled cells, 15% also contained the FG label and 11% contained FG and 5-HT immunoreactivity. Of 613 +/- 48 FG labeled cells, 24% also contained the CT-Au label and 21% were also immunoreactive to 5-HT. The results suggest a more prominent input to the Acb from both 5-HT-ir and non-5-HT-ir neurons in the caudal aspect of the DRN and further indicate that while most 5-HT-ir and non-5-HT-ir neurons project differentially to both forebrain regions, a few cells also show collateralization to the MPFC and Acb. Such collateralization of single serotonergic neurons to divergent targets may integrate cognitive and motor activities in response to pharmacological manipulations of ascending serotonergic pathways.