At least two processes contribute to the modulation by 5-HT of the connections between sensory neurons and motor neurons in Aplysia. The first involves broadening of the presynaptic spike through modulation of 5-HT-sensitive K+ channels that leads to elevated levels of intracellular Ca2+ and increased release of transmitter. A second process (or set of processes) apparently accounts for the amount of facilitation not produced by presynaptic spike broadening. This spike duration-independent (SDI) process is particularly prominent in depressed synapses. We used a protocol in which spikes were prebroadened into a range of durations in which further spike broadening by itself has little or no effect on facilitation of the EPSP.5-HT produced pronounced facilitation in depressed synapses under these conditions. Another modulatory agent, small cardioactive peptide (SCPb), also broadened spikes in sensory neurons but did not produce facilitation comparable to that produced by 5-HT. These results indicate that 5-HT activates the SDI process whereas SCPb fails to do the same. A 5 min preexposure to the modulatory peptide FMRFamide inhibited 5-HT-induced activation of the SDI process, whereas a 1 min preexposure did not. Another process(es) that may modulate synaptic efficacy in sensorimotor synapses involves changes in the properties of the motor (follower) neuron, such as input resistance. FMRFamide decreased the input resistance of postsynaptic neurons. This action could contribute to the effects of FMRFamide when administered alone, but it did not appear to be responsible for the inhibitory action of FMRFamide on 5-HT-induced facilitation. Neither 5-HT nor SCPb had a clear effect on input resistance. The actions of these three agents, therefore, seem to be differentially distributed among various pre- and postsynaptic processes involved in the modulation of synaptic transmission.