Abstract Serotonergic (5-HT) receptors are upregulated following spinal cord transection. Stimulation by administration of serotonergic receptor agonists has been successful in improving hindlimb function. We tested whether this strategy would be successful in incomplete injury models (moderate or severe thoracic contusion) where descending projections are partially spared which should produce less denervation-induced receptor upregulation. Adult rats received midthoracic moderate (MOD: 25 mm drop) or severe (SEV: 50 mm drop) contusion injuries. Distribution of 5-HT and its transporter and expression of 5-HT 2C receptors were evaluated in lumbar spinal cord and motor response to 5-HT receptor activation was assessed using open field locomotion (BBB) score, percent weight supported treadmill stepping (%WS) and evaluation of hindlimb muscle activation (tremor and serotonin syndrome). 5-HT immunostaining 3 months post-contusion revealed few 5-HT fibers caudal to the severe contusion, and more spared caudal to the moderate contusion. The distribution of 5-HT transporter paralleled 5-HT staining, but was more greatly reduced. Thus serotonin reuptake may be less efficient in the injured spinal cord. Immunostaining for the 5-HT 2C receptor in the dorsal and ventral horns at L5 showed significant upregulation in SEV, compared to sham or MOD rats. Neither 5-HT 2C nor 5-HT 1A receptor agonists, alone or in combination, nor the serotonin transporter inhibitor d-fenfluramine modified BBB scores or %WS in either group. Despite the increased sensitivity of post-synaptic targets, agonist treatment did not improve function in SEV rats. We conclude that selective 5-HT 2C or 5-HT 1A receptor activation was not effective in improving hindlimb function after incomplete lesions. In contrast, the 5-HT precursor 5-hydroxytryptophan ( l-5-HTP), which leads to activation of all classes of 5-HT receptors, increased both %WS and hindlimb activity in the MOD group. While no side effects were observed in normal or MOD rats, SEV rats displayed hindlimb tremors and 33% mortality, indicating hypersensitivity to the precursor.