We investigated the activity of bombesin (BN), neuromedin-C (NM-C) and neuromedin-B (NM-B) on serotonin (5-HT) release and reuptake in rat hypothalamus (HYP) in vitro. BN and NM-C but not NM-B (all 1 microM) decreased K+ evoked 3H-5-HT release from superfused HYP slices by 25%. Bacitracin (BCN, 2 micrograms/ml), a nonspecific peptidase inhibitor, reversed the inhibitory effect of BN on K+ evoked 3H-5-HT release. Phosphoramidon (PAN, 10 microM) an endopeptidase 24.11 inhibitor, abolished the inhibitory effect of BN, but not NM-C, on K+ evoked 3H-5-HT release. The peptidyl dipeptidase A inhibitor enalaprilat (ENP, 10 microM), enhanced both BN and NM-C inhibition of 3H-5-HT release. Bestatin (BST, 10 microM) had no effect on BN or NM-C inhibitory activity on 3H-5-HT release. Neither BN, NM-C nor NM-B affected reuptake of 3H-5-HT into HYP synaptosomes alone or in combination with any of the peptidase inhibitors, nor did these peptides alter the ability of fluoxetine to inhibit 3H-5-HT uptake. These data suggest a) that BN-like peptides may alter neurotransmission in the HYP by acting presynaptically on the 5-HT release mechanism; b) a similarity in the structural requirements for the BN induced inhibition of 5-HT release and BN evoked thermoregulatory disturbances; and c) that peptidases may selectively augment or reduce pharmacologic activity of BN-like peptides upon CNS administration.