Migraine is a common and debilitating condition. Its treatment has received considerable attention in recent times with the introduction into clinical use of the serotonin (5HT)1B/D-like agonist sumatriptan. It is known from human studies that the intracranial blood vessels and dura mater are important pain-sensitive structures since mechanical or electrical stimulation of these vessels, such as the superior sagittal sinus, causes pain. We have developed a model of craniovascular pain by stimulating the superior sagittal sinus and monitoring trigeminal neuronal activity using electrophysiological techniques. In this study we determined the effect of intravenous administration of the novel anti-migraine compound zolmitriptan (311C90) upon evoked neuronal activity in trigeminal neurons. Nine adult cats were anaesthetised with alpha-chloralose (60 mg/kg, i.p.; 20 mg/kg, i.v., 2-hourly) with all surgery being conducted under halothane (1-3%). The superior sagittal sinus was isolated for electrical stimulation. Recordings were made from caudal trigeminal neurons at the C2 level of the cervical spinal cord with tungsten-in-glass microelectrodes. Signals were amplified and analysed by a custom-written program that enabled software filtering and extraction of both evoked potential and single cell data. Data were collected before and after administration of zolmitriptan. Electrical stimulation of the superior sagittal sinus resulted in activation of neuronal elements within the trigeminal nucleus that could be monitored as single unit activity or as evoked potentials, the latter reflecting both primary afferent and trigeminal cell body activity. The evoked potential recorded from the trigeminal nucleus was 207 +/- 14 microV and was reduced by zolmitriptan (100 micrograms/kg, i.v.) to a mean of 98 +/- 17 microV. Similarly, the probability of firing for trigeminal neurons was reduced from a control level of 0.63 +/- 0.1 to 0.13 +/- 0.05 after a dose of 100 micrograms/kg intravenously. These effects were dose-dependent and were significantly different from the effect of vehicle (P < 0.05). These data demonstrate that systemically administered zolmitriptan can inhibit evoked trigeminovascular activity within the trigeminal nucleus. This inhibition of trigeminal activity may play a role in the anti-migraine actions of this compound and offers the prospect of a third pathophysiologically consistent target site for anti-migraine drug effects.