The objective of the present work was double. (i) Light microscopic autoradiography was used to determine the distribution of vasopressin and oxytocin binding sites in the spinal cord of rats. (ii) Whole-cell recordings were performed in lumbar spinal cord slices in order to assess whether these receptors are functional, whether they are located pre- or postsynaptically and whether they are present in motoneurons. In newborns, vasopressin binding sites of the V1a type were present in all laminae of the central gray at all segmental levels, whereas oxytocin binding sites were found only in the superficial layers of the dorsal horn. In adults, binding sites for both neuropeptides were also present, but were less dense. The dissociation constants for vasopressin were similar in newborns and adults. Whole-cell recordings showed that in identified motoneurons vasopressin exerted a direct effect, by inducing a membrane depolarization or by generating a sustained inward current, and an indirect effect, by enhancing glycinergic and GABAergic inhibitory transmission. Vasopressin-induced facilitation of inhibitory transmission could also be demonstrated in unidentified ventral horn neurons. All these effects were mediated by V1a but not V1b receptors. In some neurons, glycinergic transmission was also facilitated by a selective oxytocin receptor agonist. Our data, together with data obtained previously in brainstem motor nuclei, suggest that vasopressin of hypothalamic origin could play a role in motricity. The neuropeptide could act as a neuromodulator, because it would not directly activate motoneurons, but rather render them more responsive to incoming excitatory inputs. Vasopressin may thus act as a regulator of muscular force.