Motor neurons which innervate the circular muscle layer of the guinea-pig small intestine were retrogradely labelled, in vitro, with the carbocyanine dye, DiI, applied to the deep muscular plexus. By combining retrograde tracing and immunohistochemistry, the chemical coding of motor neurons was investigated. Five classes of neuron could be distinguished on the basis of the co-localization of immunoreactivity for the different antigens; the five classes were also characterized by different lengths and polarities of their axonal projections and by their cell body shapes. Two classes with local or orally directed axons were immunoreactive for choline acetyltransferase and substance P and are likely to be cholinergic excitatory motor neurons. Two other classes had anally directed axons; they were immunoreactive for vasoactive intestinal polypeptide and are likely to be inhibitory motor neurons. A small proportion of neurons with short projections to the circular muscle were immunoreactive for neither substance P nor for vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, but are likely to be cholinergic. The morphological and histochemical identification of excitatory and inhibitory motor neurons provides a neuroanatomical basis for the final motor pathways involved in the polarized reflex motor activity of the gut.