Since the relative contribution of pre- versus post-synaptic actions of 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) to modulation of somatosensory processing in the dorsal horn is not known, recordings fro m primary afferents and dorsal horn neurons from in vitro rat spinal cord were used to address this issue. 5-HT produced a depression of spontaneous dorsal root potentials and a slow primary afferent depolarization (PAD): the PAD versus 5-HT concentration-response curve was bell shaped (maximum at 5 μM; 250±C 41.5 μV). In 28/40 dorsal horn neurons, 5-HT elicited a slow depolarization not clearly associated with a specific input resistance change. Excitatory synaptic transmission from primary afferents to dorsal horn neurons was depressed by 5-HT in 40/45 neurons. 5-HT ≥ 5 μM significantly (P≤ 0.05) decreased the amplitude, shortened the total duration and half-decay time of the excitatory post-synaptic potential (EPSP). A dominant effect of 5-HT on longer latency EPSP components was evident. There was no direct relationship between the magnitude of PAD and the reduction of the EPSP by 5-HT. 5-Carboxamidotryptamine, an agonist for 5-HT1 receptors, mimicked the depression of neurotransmission in the dorsal horn without producing PAD. A sample of dorsal horn neurons (n= 8) was injected with biocytin and their morphology described. All had somata within laminae III-VI. In five of these neurons 5-HT depressed the EPSP but in one interneuron-like and one unclassed neuron the EPSP was potentiated. These data suggest that whilst depression of synaptic transmission is the predominant effect of 5-HT in the deep dorsal horn, this is not easily related to PAD or cellular actions of 5-HT on dorsal horn neurons.