The insect ventral nerve cord consists of metamerically repeated ganglia subserving the thoracic and abdominal segments. The abdominal ganglia control basic functions such as respiration, circulation, heartbeat, diuresis, hindgut motility, functions of the genitalia and ovipositor and abdominal posture. Some of this control is by efferent innervation of target tissues but hormonal control also is exerted by abdominal neurosecretory cells via release from neurohemal organs or other release sites. The present review summarizes what is known about the distribution of neurotransmitters, monoamines and neuropeptides in the abdominal ganglia of different insect species. Special emphasis is on the unfused abdominal ganglion, since this is the least complex of all central ganglia and therefore may reveal the minimum number of neuroactive compounds utilized in neurotransmission, neuromodulation and neurohormonal control. Both GABA and glutamate are present in both interneurons and motoneurons, whereas biogenic amines such as serotonin, dopamine and histamine are found primarily in interneurons (although some cases of sensory cells and efferent neurons are known). Octopamine can be seen both in interneurons, efferent neurons and neurosecretory cells. A large number (about 20 different main types) of neuropeptides has been indicated in abdominal ganglia. Each peptide has a very specific distribution pattern. Depending on the peptide type, the localization is known to be in interneurons, neurosecretory cells or motoneurons, or combinations of these. The structure and known functions of the different neuropeptides in different insect species are summarized in some detail. Both GABA and glutamate appear to have roles as fast neurotransmitters, whereas amines and neuropeptides seem to have modulatory roles both within the CNS and at peripheral targets. After a comprehensive overview of different substances in studied insect species, the unfused abdominal ganglia from the moth Manduca sexta, locusts and cockroaches are dealt with in some detail and a comparison is made with insects possessing fused abdominal ganglia such as blowflies and Drosophila. Some emphasis is made of the presence of neuroactive compounds in neurosecretory cells and other identifiable neurons for which physiological analysis is feasible.