In order to characterize the localization of the sigma(1) receptor in the adult rat central nervous system, a polyclonal antibody was raised against a 20 amino acid peptide, corresponding to the fragment 143-162 of the cloned sigma(1) receptor protein. Throughout the rostrocaudal regions of the central nervous system extending from the olfactory bulb to the spinal cord, intense to moderate immunostaining was found to be associated with: (i) ependymocytes bordering the entire ventricular system, and (ii) neuron-like structures located within the parenchyma. Double fluorescence studies confirmed that, throughout the parenchyma, sigma(1) receptor-immunostaining was essentially associated with neuronal structures immunostained for the neuronal marker betaIII-tubulin. In all rats examined, high levels of immunostaining were always associated with neurons located within specific regions including the granular layer of the olfactory bulb, various hypothalamic nuclei, the septum, the central gray, motor nuclei of the hindbrain and the dorsal horn of the spinal cord. In contrast, only faint immunostaining was associated with neurons located in the caudate-putamen and the cerebellum. Electron microscope studies indicated that sigma(1) receptor immunostaining was mostly associated with neuronal perikarya and dendrites, where it was localized to the limiting plasma membrane, the membrane of mitochondria and of some cisternae of the endoplasmic reticulum. At the level of synaptic contacts, intense immunostaining was associated with postsynaptic structures including the postsynaptic thickening and some polymorphous vesicles, whereas the presynaptic axons were devoid of immunostaining. These data indicate that the sigma(1) receptor antibody prepared here, represents a promising tool for further investigating the role of sigma(1) receptors.