Repeated isocapnic hypoxia evokes long-term facilitation (LTF) of phrenic nerve activity in rats. We wished to determine: (1) whether hypoxia-induced LTF is serotonin dependent; and (2) whether hypoxia-induced LTF is a property of upper airway motoneurons. Phrenic and hypoglossal nerve activities were recorded in urethane anesthetized, vagotomized, paralyzed and artificially ventilated rats (n = 7). Rats were exposed to three, 5-min hypoxic episodes (FIo2 = 0.10) separated by 5 min of hyperoxia (FIo2 = 0.50). One hour after the final hypoxic episode, integrated phrenic and hypoglossal amplitudes and burst frequency were increased above control values (63 +/- 17%, 78 +/- 26% and 9.6 +/- 2.1 bursts/min, respectively: p < 0.05). In rats pretreated with methysergide (n = 7; 4 mg/kg), no changes in phrenic or hypoglossal activity from pre-stimulus control values were observed at any time post-stimulation. The results indicate that hypoxia-induced LTF requires 5-HT receptors and is characteristic of both hypoglossal and phrenic motor output.