The distribution of afferent axons in the bladder of rats was studied by means of immunohistochemistry for calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), in frozen sections and in wholemount preparations of mucosa and muscle coat. Synaptophysin-immunofluorescence was used for the general detection of all intramural axons. The afferent axons were distributed over four distinct targets: at the base of the epithelium, inside the epithelium, on blood vessels (both arteries and veins) and along muscle bundles. In the mucosa, all the afferent axons, except the perivascular ones, lay either inside the epithelium or in a subepithelial plexus very close to the basal surface of the epithelium. The plexus was thickest in the neck of the bladder and in the initial portion of the urethra, and it became progressively less dense in the adjacent regions; it did not extend beyond the equatorial region, and therefore the mucosa of the cranial region of the bladder had no afferent axons. Most of the axons in the subepithelial plexus were terminal axons and included conspicuous varicosities arranged in very long chains; branching points were numerous, usually at right angles and located at the level of a varicosity; some axons split and then rejoined, forming closed axonal loops. The afferent innervation of the musculature was more diffuse, and appeared uniform throughout the bladder. After unilateral surgical denervation (by excision of the pelvic ganglion 5-7 days earlier) areas of complete denervation were observed, but there were large areas where the innervation was only reduced. The results showed that there is a bilateral innervation of many regions of the mucosa and the musculature, including individual muscle bundles. A substantial number of fibres crossed the midline into the contralateral side of the bladder. CGRP-immunofluorescence in mucosal afferent axons is enhanced in the surviving axons 5 days after contralateral denervation, a change which is interpreted as an early sign of regeneration.