The laryngeal chemoreflex (LCR), an airway-protective reflex that causes apnoea and bradycardia, has long been suspected as an initiating event in the sudden infant death syndrome. Serotonin (5-HT) and 5-HT receptors may be deficient in the brainstems of babies who die of sudden infant death syndrome, and 5-HT seems to be important in terminating apnoeas directly or in causing arousals or as part of the process of autoresuscitation. We hypothesized that 5-HT in the brainstem would limit the duration of the LCR. We studied anaesthetized rat pups between 7 and 21 days of age and made microinjections into the cisterna magna or into the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS). Focal, bilateral microinjections of 5-HT into the caudal NTS significantly shortened the LCR. The 5-HT1a receptor antagonist, WAY 100635, did not affect the LCR consistently, nor did a 5-HT2 receptor antagonist, ketanserin, alter the duration of the LCR. The 5-HT3 specific agonist, 1-(3-chlorophenyl)-biguanide, microinjected bilaterally into the caudal NTS significantly shortened the LCR. Thus, endogenous 5-HT released within the NTS may curtail the respiratory depression that is part of the LCR, and serotonergic shortening of the LCR may be attributed to activation of 5-HT3 receptors within the NTS. 5-HT3 receptors are expressed presynaptically on C fibre afferents of the superior laryngeal nerve, and serotonergic shortening of the LCR may be mediated presynaptically by enhanced activation of inhibitory interneurons within the NTS.