The cessation of firing of serotonergic dorsal raphe neurons is a key controlling event of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. We tested the hypothesis that this cessation of activity is due to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) release using the in vivo microdialysis technique. We found that REM sleep is accompanied by a selective increase in GABA release, but not by a change in glutamate or glycine release in the dorsal raphe nucleus. Microinjection of the GABA agonist muscimol into the dorsal raphe increased REM sleep, although microperfusion of the GABA antagonist picrotoxin blocked REM sleep. These results implicate GABA release as a critical element in the production of the REM sleep state and in the control of discharge in serotonergic neurons across the sleep/wake cycle.