The effect of 5-methoxytryptoline (5-MeOT), 5-hydroxytryptoline (5-OHT) and tryptoline (Tp), putative endogenous derivatives of the tryptamines, on plasma prolactin (PRL) concentrations has been investigated in the adult male rat. The possible involvement of the hypothalamic serotonergic system has been considered in the mediation of the hormonal effect of the tryptolines. Therefore, plasma PRL levels have been evaluated in rats receiving tryptolines after different pharmacological manipulations of central serotonergic function. Although the three compounds increased the plasma titers of PRL in a dose-dependent manner and enhanced the hypothalamic content of serotonin (5HT), they appear to affect the serotonergic system through different mechanisms. In particular, 5-OHT might act at a presynaptic level, since its hyperprolactinemic effect was antagonized both by the depletion of central 5HT content after p-chlorophenylalanine and by the degeneration of serotonergic terminals after 5,7-dihydroxytryptamine. In contrast, 5-MeOT behaved as if it had a postsynaptic site of action, being counteracted by the serotonergic postsynaptic antagonists metergoline and cyproheptadine. The unsubstituted tetrahydro-β-carboline, Tp, is probably active at both pre- and postsynaptic sites. The enhancing effect of Tp on PRL secretion was antagonized by chronic treatment with p-chlorophenylalanine, while it was also maintained in 5,7-dihydroxytryptamine-lesioned rats. These findings suggest that tryptolines may play a functional role in PRL secretion by interacting with central serotonergic systems through different biochemical mechanisms.