5-HT(3) receptor antagonists are clinically available for treating patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) but their use is restricted because of a link with some episodes of ischaemic colitis. However, the role of 5-HT3 receptors in regulating colonic blood flow has not been systematically investigated. Thus, we examined acute and chronic treatment with alosetron, a potent and selective antagonist of the 5-HT3 receptor, on baseline colonic blood flow and haemodynamic responses during occlusion and reactive hyperaemia in the pentobarbitone-anaesthetized rat. Colonic haemodynamics were assessed using ultrasonic recordings of superior mesenteric blood flow (MBF) and laser Doppler recordings of colonic vascular perfusion (VP). Blood pressure (BP) was also monitored and in some experiments tissue oxygen was detected polarographically. Alosetron (10, 30, 100 microg kg(-1), i.v.) had no effect on baseline haemodynamics nor responses to nitric oxide synthase inhibition with N(omega)-nitro-l-arginine methyl ester (l-NAME) (16 mg kg(-1)). Arterial occlusion (5 min) reduced MBF (-98.6 +/- 0.6%) and VP (-70.7 +/- 5.4%) followed by a post-occlusion reactive hyperaemia (MBF = +94.5 +/- 19.1%; VP = +60.0 +/- 22.3%) the magnitude of which was unchanged following acute (30 microg kg(-1)) or chronic alosetron administration (0.5 mg kg(-1) twice daily, 5 days). Alosetron did not significantly alter baseline colonic blood flow in the anaesthetized rat; nor did it interfere with vascular control mechanisms activated during occlusion and reactive hyperaemia.