Neurotransmitters such as serotonin (5HT) may have nontransmitter, trophic-like functions in the developing and adult nervous system. In order to examine this possibility in the avian spinal cord, we have quantified synapse numbers on spinal neurons following treatment with drugs that result in the destruction of 5HT positive axons. Either p-chlorophenylalanine or reserpine was injected into newly hatched or adult chickens. Following treatment for 7 days the density of nonserotoninergic synapses was considerably decreased in the targets of 5HT fibers. By contrast, neither change was observed in the dendritic structures of spinal motoneurons or in the distribution of substance P and enkephalin positive fibers. These data suggest that 5HT may play an important role in the normal increase and maintenance of synapses in developing and adult animals. A lesion of 5HT neurons may not only alter neurochemistry but also alter the general synaptic structures of the brain. While 5HT containing fibers were depleted in a dose-dependent fashion we cannot rule out the possibility that other neurotransmitter systems were depleted at higher dose of PCPA and reserpine.