GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid) is the predominant neurotransmitter in the mammalian suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), with a central role in circadian time-keeping. We therefore undertook an ultrastructural analysis of the GABA-containing innervation in the SCN of mice and rats using immunoperoxidase and immunogold procedures. GABA-immunoreactive (GABA-ir) neurons were identified by use of anti-GABA and anti-GAD (glutamic acid decarboxylase) antisera. The relationship between GABA-ir elements and the most prominent peptidergic neurons in the SCN, containing vasopressin-neurophysin (VP-NP) or vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP), was also studied. Within any given field in the SCN, approximately 40-70% of the neuronal profiles were GABA-ir. In GABA-ir somata, immunogold particles were prominent over mitochondria, sparse over cytoplasm, and scattered as aggregates over nucleoplasm. In axonal boutons, gold particles were concentrated over electron-lucent synaptic vesicles (diameter 40-60 nm) and mitochondria, and in some instances over dense-cored vesicles (DCVs, diameter 90-110 nm). GABA-ir boutons formed either symmetric or asymmetric synaptic contacts with somata, dendritic shafts and spines, and occasionally with other terminals (axo-axonic). Homologous or autaptic connections (GABA on GABA, or GAD on GAD) were common. Although GABA appeared to predominate in most neuronal profiles, colocalisation of GABA within neurons that were predominantly neuropeptide-containing was also evident. About 66% of the VIP-containing boutons and 32% of the vasopressinergic boutons contained GABA. The dense and complex GABAergic network that pervades the SCN is therefore comprised of multiple neuronal phenotypes containing GABA, including a wide variety of axonal boutons that impinge on heterologous and homologous postsynaptic sites.