Light and electron microscope immunocytochemistry with a monoclonal antibody against the N-terminal domain of the human protein was used to determine the cellular and subcellular localization of serotonin 5-HT2A receptors in the central nervous system of adult rat. Following immunoperoxidase or silver-intensified immunogold labeling, neuronal, somatodendritic, and/or axonal immunoreactivity was detected in numerous brain regions, including all those in which ligand binding sites and 5-HT2A mRNA had previously been reported. The distribution of 5-HT2A-immunolabeled soma/dendrites was characterized in cerebral cortex, olfactory system, septum, hippocampal formation, basal ganglia, amygdala, diencephalon, cerebellum, brainstem, and spinal cord. Labeled axons were visible in every myelinated tract known to arise from immunoreactive cell body groups. In immunopositive soma/dendrites as well as axons, the 5-HT2A receptor appeared mainly cytoplasmic rather than membrane bound. Even though the dendritic labeling was generally stronger than the somatic, it did not extend to dendritic spines in such regions as the cerebral and piriform cortex, the neostriatum, or the molecular layer of the cerebellum. Similarly, there were no labeled axon terminals in numerous regions known to be strongly innervated by the immunoreactive somata and their axons (e.g., molecular layer of piriform cortex). It was concluded that the 5-HT2A receptor is mostly intracellular and transported in dendrites and axons, but does not reach into dendritic spines or axon terminals. Because it has previously been shown that this serotonin receptor is transported retrogradely as well as anterogradely, activates intracellular transduction pathways and intervenes in the regulation of the expression of many genes, it is suggested that one of its main functions is to participate in retrograde signaling systems activated by serotonin.