We show that activation of a single serotonergic cell is sufficient to trigger long-term associative enhancement of synaptic input to the withdrawal interneuron in a simple network consisting of three interconnected identified cells in the nervous system of terrestrial snail Helix. 1,2-bis (2-aminophenoxy) Ethane-N,N,N',N'-tetraacetic acid (BAPTA) injection in the postsynaptic neuron abolishes the pairing-specific enhancement of synaptic input. Activation of a single modulatory cell that we used to reinforce the synaptic input induced an increase of the intracellular [Ca2+] in the ipsilateral withdrawal interneuron without any changes of its membrane potential or input resistance. Similar changes in intracellular [Ca2+] were observed in the same withdrawal interneuron under bath application of 10(-5) m serotonin. Responses to repeated glutamate applications to the soma of synaptically isolated withdrawal interneurons increased after 10 min of serotonin or thapsigargin bath application, but were absent in conditions of preliminary BAPTA intracellular injection, significantly decreased under heparin injection. Thus, activity of a single modulatory cell may mediate reinforcement via an increase of [Ca2+] in the postsynaptic cell in a simple network consisting of neurons with defined behavioural roles.