5-HT2C receptor mRNA has a widespread distribution in the human and rat CNS but the absence of a specific high affinity ligand has made autoradiographic localisation of the receptor difficult. By raising polyclonal antibodies against the rat 5-HT2C receptor protein this study reports the immunohistochemical distribution of this receptor in the rat CNS. A sephadex purified 5-HT2C antiserum visualised a single immunopositive band (54 kDa) in Western blots of membranes prepared from several rat brain regions and caused intense membrane immunofluorescence in HEK 293 cells transfected with h5-HT2C cDNA, which were both attenuated by incubation with the antigenic peptide sequence (200-300 microM). 5-HT2C-like immunoreactivity was located on neurones throughout the CNS. The most abundant 5-HT2C-like immunoreactive cell bodies were in the anterior olfactory nucleus, medial and intercalated amygdaloid nuclei, hippocampus layers CA1 to CA3, laterodorsal and lateral geniculate thalamic nuclei, caudate-putamen and several areas of the cortex (including piriform and frontal), consistent with this receptor being located postsynaptic to serotonergic neurones. Immunopositive neurones were also found in the dorsal raphé, suggesting that 5-HT2C receptors may be on some serotonergic neurones. The overall distribution of 5-HT2C-like immunoreactivity complements previous findings with conventional radioligands and agrees well with reported levels of 5-HT2C receptor mRNA.