SUMMARY Many teleosts actively regulate buoyancy by adjusting gas volume in the swimbladder. In physostomous fishes such as the zebrafish, a connection is maintained between the swimbladder and the oesophagus via the pneumatic duct for the inflation and deflation of this organ. Here we investigated the role of adrenergic stimulation of swimbladder wall musculature in deflation of the swimbladder. Noradrenaline (NA), the sympathetic neurotransmitter (dosage 10 −6 to 10 −5 mol l −1 ), doubled the force of smooth muscle contraction in isolated tissue rings from the anterior chamber, caused a doubling of pressure in this chamber in situ , and evoked gas expulsion through the pneumatic duct, deflating the swimbladder to approximately 85% of the pre-NA volume. These effects were mediated by β-adrenergic receptors, representing a novel role for these receptors in vertebrates. No effects of adrenergic stimulation were detected in the posterior chamber. In a detailed examination of the musculature and innervation of the swimbladder to determine the anatomical substrate for these functional results, we found that the anterior chamber contained an extensive ventral band of smooth muscle with fibres organized into putative motor units, richly innervated by tyrosine hydroxylase-positive axons. Additionally, a novel arrangement of folds in the lumenal connective tissue in the wall of the anterior chamber was described that may permit small changes in muscle length to cause large changes in effective wall distensibility and hence chamber volume. Taken together, these data strongly suggest that deflation of the zebrafish swimbladder occurs primarily by β-adrenergically mediated contraction of smooth muscle in the anterior chamber and is under the control of the sympathetic limb of the autonomic nervous system.