In the present work the anatomical distribution of alpha 2-adrenoceptors in the human central nervous system was studied in detail by quantitative autoradiography using the selective alpha 2 agonist [3H]bromoxidine ([3H]UK-14304) as a ligand. Only postmortem tissues from subjects free of neurological disorders were used in this study. Very high or high densities of alpha 2-adrenoceptors were found along layers I and III in non-visual neocortex, layers III and IVc of the visual cortex, CA1 field--stratum lacunosum-moleculare--and dentate gyrus--stratum granularis--at the hippocampal formation, nucleus arcuatus at the hypothalamus, locus ceruleus, nucleus dorsalis of vagus and at the stratum granularis of the cerebellar cortex. Relevant densities of alpha 2-adrenoceptors were also observed along the remaining layers of neocortex, nuclei centralis, medialis and corticalis at the amygdala, anterior thalamic group and rotundocellularis nuclei, paraventricular and ventromedial hypothalamic nuclei, substantia innominata, superior colliculus--stratum zonale--and lateral periaqueductal area at the midbrain, nucleus tractus solitarii and dorsal horn--substantia gelatinosa--of the spinal cord. [3H]Bromoxidine specific binding was very low or negligible in the remaining brain areas. Although a general parallelism between the distribution of these receptors could be observed for the rat and human brain, dramatic species differences in the level of alpha 2-receptors were found in several brain areas, such as thalamus, amygdala or cerebellar cortex. In general, the distribution of alpha 2-adrenoceptors in the human brain found here was parallel to that described for the noradrenergic presynaptic terminals in the mammalian central nervous system, lending some weight to the proposed predominant presynaptic localization of these receptors. The relevance of the anatomical distribution of alpha 2-adrenoceptors in the human brain for a better knowledge of the neurochemistry of neuropsychiatric disorders is discussed.