Spinally projecting neurons of the ventromedial medulla (VMM) compose an important efferent pathway for the modulation of nociception. These neurons receive a substantial gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-ergic input, but the GABA receptor that mediates this input is unknown. This study examined the distribution of GABA(A) receptor alpha1 and alpha3 subunits in serotonergic and nonserotonergic neurons of the VMM that project to the dorsal horn in the rat. A pledget of Gelfoam soaked in Fluoro-Gold was placed at the thoracolumbar junction of the spinal cord to label spinally projecting neurons. Alternate sections of the medulla were then incubated with a mixture of antisera to either serotonin and the alpha1 subunit, or to serotonin and the alpha3 subunit of the GABA(A) receptor. Nearly 30% of spinally projecting neurons in the VMM were immunoreactive for the alpha1 subunit. A similar percentage of spinally projecting neurons in the VMM were immunoreactive for the alpha3 subunit, although diffuse cellular labeling combined with intense staining of processes in the neuropil precluded a rigorous semi-quantitative estimation of this population. No alpha1-subunit-immunoreactive neurons colocalized serotonin. In contrast, serotonergic neurons were immunoreactive for the alpha3 subunit. However, these double-labeled neurons were a modest percentage of the serotonergic population. A small percentage of spinally projecting serotonergic neurons was immunoreactive for the alpha3 subunit. These results suggest that significant numbers of spinally projecting serotonergic and nonserotonergic neurons of the VMM possess GABA(A) receptors that differ in their respective subunit compositions and that both classes of neurons may mediate the antinociception produced by the microinjection of GABA(A) receptor antagonists in the VMM.