The expression patterns of different Ca(2+) channel alpha(1) subunits (alpha(1A-E)) were immunohistochemically studied in the rat retina. Intense immunoreactivity (IR) for alpha(1A) (P/Q-type) and alpha(1B) (N-type) Ca(2+) channels was observed in both the outer and inner plexiform layers (OPL and IPL). In addition, alpha(1B)-IR was found in the outer and inner nuclear layers. Staining for alpha(1E) (R-type) was diffusely distributed in all three nuclear layers and in the IPL. The alpha(1C) and alpha(1D), two L-type Ca(2+) channel subunits, exhibited distinct expression patterns, with alpha(1C) being almost exclusively expressed on bipolar cells, and alpha(1D) mainly on photoreceptor cell bodies and in the OPL. Staining for alpha(1D) was also observed on Müller cells. The differential expression pattern of the alpha(1) subunits suggests that these Ca(2+) channel subtypes may be associated with different retinal functions.