Slices from human neocortex preincubated with [3H]serotonin ([3H]5-HT) were superfused and stimulated electrically to investigate whether the alpha 2-adrenoceptors on serotonergic terminals can be stimulated by endogenous noradrenaline (NA) released from neighboring noradrenergic fibers. The stimulation-evoked 3H overflow, representing action potential-induced, exocytotic release of 5-HT, was depressed by the NA uptake blocker (+)-oxaprotiline. Rauwolscine (a mixed alpha 2-adrenoceptor antagonist/5-HT autoreceptor agonist) or phentolamine [a combined alpha-adrenoceptor/5-HT autoreceptor antagonist; the latter drug in the presence of (+)-oxaprotiline] enhanced the release when the 5-HT autoreceptors had previously been blocked by metitepine. Under hypothermia the release of 5-HT was found to be decreased and that of NA to be increased; under these conditions idazoxan (an alpha 2-adrenoceptor antagonist) enhanced the release of 5-HT. In neocortex slices from rats (+)-oxaprotiline similarly depressed the release of 5-HT (measured with the same methods) as in human tissue. When rats were pretreated with 6-hydroxydopamine, the inhibitory effect of exogenous NA on 5-HT release was increased, and in slices from rats pretreated with desipramine, it was decreased. In conclusion, alpha 2-heteroreceptors can be activated by endogenous NA released from neighboring noradrenergic fibers. Because regulatory processes analogous to those in rats probably occur in humans as well, an up- or down-regulation of alpha 2-heteroreceptors in depressed patients with a (pathological) decrease or a (therapeutic) enhancement of the noradrenergic neurotransmission may also be assumed to occur.