By using a monoclonal antibody to serotonin (5-HT), an immunohistochemical study was undertaken to provide a comprehensive description of the 5-HT-containing neurons and of the distribution of their axonal processes in the cat brain and spinal cord. The localization of cell bodies was comparable to that previously reported in studies using formaldehyde-induced fluorescence and other 5-HT antibodies, with a large proportion of labeled neurons in the raphe nuclei and a minor, yet not negligible number, in the ventral, lateral, and dorsal reticular formation. The ascending efferent non-varicose axons were best visualized in sagittal sections and mainly seen taking a rostroventral direction through the tegmentum. The varicose axons could be grossly classified into thin and large fibers, according to the size and shape of the immunoreactive varicosities, which were elongated (up to 2 microm in length and 1 microm in width) or round (2-4 microm in diameter). Varicose axonal arborizations invaded almost every region of the gray matter and avoided large myelinated bundles except in the spinal cord. Variations in the density of the plexuses of immunoreactive fibers generally followed the anatomical divisions and were also observed within nuclei, especially in laminated structures. Only the superior olivary complex could be regarded as devoid of 5-HT-containing axons. A few areas contained extremely rich fiber plexuses. These were the olfactory tubercle, nucleus accumbens, ventral mesencephalon, periventricular gray from the hypothalamus to the pons, facial nucleus, subdivisions of the inferior olive, and the intermediolateral nucleus in the spinal cord. Varicose axons formed tight pericellular arrays in the neocortex, mainly the ectosylvian gyrus, and in the lateral septum and medullar magnocellular nucleus. These data, combined with those of the literature concerning the synaptic versus non-synaptic mode of termination of the 5-HT-immunoreactive varicosities and the high number of distinct receptors, are indicative of the multiple possible actions of serotonin in the central nervous system. Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.