Postsynaptic responses of neurons in the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) have been studied in an in vitro slice preparation using extra- and intracellular recording. Single or paired pulse stimulations were delivered to afferent fibers within the tractus solitarius (TS) to activate orthodromic responses in these neurons. Most NTS neurons displayed an initial synaptic excitation followed by inhibition of spontaneous or evoked firing lasting up to 150-200 ms after stimulation. Excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs), recorded intracellularly, were increased in amplitude by membrane hyperpolarization. Large afterhyperpolarizations followed action potentials triggered by the EPSPs or evoked by intracellular current injections. Intracellular evidence for synaptic inhibition within the NTS included: (1) the presence, after Cl-injection, of flurries of spontaneous PSPs likely to be inverted inhibitory postsynaptic potentials; (2) reduction of the size of a test EPSP by a previous subthreshold TS conditioning volley; and (3) hyperpolarizing PSPs recorded in some neurons. Other NTS neurons exhibited prolonged excitatory responses to TS stimulation and could be local inhibitory interneurons. These results may help specify synaptic mechanisms in the NTS that could play an integrative role in the relay of visceral sensory inputs to higher order effectors.