The binding sites of nociceptin (also named orphanin FQ), the endogenous ligand of ORL1 (opiate receptor like 1), were localized in rat brain, using an autoradiographic procedure. High levels of binding were observed in the cingulate, retrosplenial, perirhinal, insular and occipital cortex, anterior and posteromedial cortical amygdaloid nuclei, basolateral amygdaloid nucleus, amygdaloid complex, posterior hippocampus, dorsal endopiriform, central medial thalamic, paraventricular, rhomboid thalamic, suprachiasmatic, ventromedial hypothalamic nuclei, mammillary complex, superficial gray layer of the superior colliculus, locus coeruleus, dorsal raphe nucleus. More moderate labelling was observed in the prefrontal, fronto-parietal, temporal, piriform cortex, dentate gyrus, anterior olfactory nucleus, olfactory tubercle, shell of nucleus accumbens, claustrum, lateral septum, laterodorsal thalamic, medial habenular, subthalamic, reuniens thalamic nuclei, subiculum, periaqueductal grey matter and pons. A lower binding site density was observed in the anterior and medial hippocampus, olfactory bulb, caudate putamen, the core of the nucleus accumbens, medial septum, ventrolateral, ventroposterolateral and mediodorsal thalamic nuclei, lateral and medial geniculate nuclei, hypothalamic area, substantia nigra, ventral tegmentum area and interpedoncular nucleus. A moderate and similar labelling was found in the dorsal and ventral horn of the spinal cord. No labelling was apparent in the corpus callosum. Thus, it appears that the ORL1 receptor is particularly abundant in the cerebral cortex, limbic system of the rat brain and some areas involved in pain perception.