There is extensive evidence that serotonin (5-HT) is implicated in the neuroendocrine control regulating the secretion of several anterior pituitary hormones. It has also been reported that the posterior pituitary is necessary for prolactin (PRL) response to 5-HT as well as to suckling, in which 5-HT implication has been demonstrated. As we have previously shown that vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) mediates through an autocrine or paracrine action the PRL release induced by insulin-like growth factor I, thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) and dopamine withdrawal, the aim of the present work was to determine whether 5-HT has a direct action on pituitary secretion and to study the possible role of pituitary VIP in this situation. Cells from the anterior pituitary lobe (AP) were cultured either alone or together with cells from the posterior pituitary lobe (PP). As melanotropes from PP express glucocorticoid receptors in vitro, both AP cultures and cocultures of AP/PP cells were incubated in the presence or absence of corticosterone (0.1 microg/ml), thus designing four experimental conditions. Then both AP and mixed cultures were incubated with 5-HT (100 nM) for 20, 45 and 180. The release of PRL, growth hormone (GH), corticotropin (ACTH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) was stimulated by 5-HT, but only in cocultures of AP/PP cells preincubated with corticosterone, whereas follicle-stimulating hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone release was not modified. As AP cultures did not show any response to 5-HT, both in the presence or absence of corticosterone, and as melanotropes are the main cellular type present in the PP cultures, we studied the response of alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alphaMSH) to 5-HT in PP cells cultured with or without corticosterone. Serotonin did not modify alphaMSH release either in the absence or the presence of corticosterone. VIP release was also stimulated by 5-HT in the cocultures, and the time response profile was only similar to that of PRL. In order to study whether pituitary VIP is implicated in 5-HT action, cocultures preincubated with corticosterone were incubated in the presence of 5-HT, a VIP-receptor antagonist (VIP-At) or simultaneously with 5-HT plus VIP-At. PRL response to 5-HT was abolished by the simultaneous presence of VIP-At, whereas GH, ACTH and LH response remained unchanged. These data demostrate that: (1) 5-HT stimulates the secretion of PRL, GH, ACTH, LH and VIP acting directly at pituitary level on PP, probably by releasing an unidentified mediator from melanotropes; (2) glucocorticoids make the response of AP cells to 5-HT possible due to the presence of PP cells in the coculture; (3) PRL response to 5-HT is mediated through an autocrine and/or paracrine action of VIP.