Increasing evidence suggests that tachykinins are involved in the control of pathophysiological states, such as inflammation. The precise localization of tachykinin receptors is of paramount importance in the search for their possible physiological and pathological role; in this study, therefore, we attempted to define cellular sites of substance P (NK-1R) and neurokinin A (NK-2R) receptor expression in the healthy and the inflamed human intestine by in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry. In the normal ileum and colon, NK-1R and NK-2R were localized to smooth muscle cells of the muscularis mucosae and propria and a few inflammatory cells of the lamina propria; NK-1R expression was also found in the muscular wall of submucosal blood vessels, enteric neurons and, to a lesser degree, in surface epithelial cells. Patients with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis showed a dramatic increase in NK-1R density relative to controls, in both the inflamed and the uninvolved mucosa. Up-regulation of NK-1R was particularly evident on epithelial cells lining the mucosal surface and crypts, as well as on endothelial cells of capillaries and venules. Also, a marked increase in NK-2R expression was found in both groups of patients on inflammatory cells of the lamina propria, especially eosinophils. Our findings demonstrate that in the normal human intestine NK-1R and NK-2R are expressed in multiple cell types, which are endowed with different physiological functions; in addition, they demonstrate that both NK-1R and NK-2R are up-regulated in patients with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Taken together, these observations may have important physiological and pathophysiological implications, and provide the rationale for the use of NK-1R and NK-2R antagonists in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.