The experiments examined the effects of depleting forebrain 5-hydroxytryptamine (5HT) on Pavlovian aversive conditioning to discrete and contextual stimuli. Rats were lesioned with intracerebroventricular injections of the neurotoxin 5,7-dihydroxytryptamine and then conditioned in a distinctive environment (termed the context) to a 30 s auditory stimulus. In 50% of animals the interval between the offset of the discrete auditory stimulus and the reinforcer, a mild foot-shock (0.5 mA, 0.5 s), was 5 s (the short-trace group) and in the other 50%, 30 s (the long-trace group). Theory predicts that animals in the short-trace condition will learn more about the discrete stimulus as a predictor of shock and become strongly conditioned, while those in the long-trace condition learn relatively more about the context. The extent of conditioning to the discrete and contextual stimuli was assessed separately, in extinction, using lick-suppression and place-preference measures respectively. Under these conditions sham subjects exhibited the expected dissociation with respect to trace interval. However, lesioned animals exhibited a specific impairment in contextual conditioning. The results are discussed in terms of the behavioural, neurochemical and neuroanatomical specificity of 5HT function in aversive conditioning and the implications for general theories of the role of 5HT in aversive processes.