The neuropeptide FLFQPQRFamide is a structure related to FMRFamide which is able to inhibit the effects of both endogenous and exogenous opiates. This morphine-modulating activity is mediated via the stimulation of specific FLFQPQRFamide receptors, different from opiate receptors. In vitro quantitative receptor autoradiography was performed on frozen sections of rat central nervous system to characterize binding properties and visualize FLFQPQRFamide receptors using the specific ligand [125I]YLFQPQRFamide, a radio-iodinated analogue of FLFQPQRFamide. [125I]YLFQPQRFamide appeared to interact reversibly with a single class of binding sites (KD = 0.2 nM). The specific binding represented 80% of the total binding at 0.05 nM, the FLFQPQRFamide concentration used in this mapping study. Sites labelled with [125I]YLFQPQRFamide were distributed heterogeneously within the brain and spinal cord. A high density of FLFQPQRFamide binding sites was detected in the most external layers of the dorsal horn of spinal cord and various nuclei of pons and medulla including trigeminal, dorsal tegmental and reticular nuclei. Nucleus of solitary tract, parabrachial, ambiguous and facial nuclei are also intensively labelled. Some structures of mesencephalon and diencephalon exhibited a high density of FLFQPQRFamide binding sites: central gray, raphe nuclei and thalamic nuclei such as parafascicular, laterodorsal, central median, paratenial and paraventricular nuclei. Suprachiasmatic and mammillary nuclei, lateral, posterior and anterior areas of hypothalamus and medial preoptic area exhibited high labelling. FLFQPQRFamide binding sites were also seen in some structures of the dopaminergic meso-cortico-limbic system including ventral tegmental area, cingulate cortex, lateral septum and the head of the caudate-putamen. Dense labelling appeared in the presubiculum of hippocampus. The dissimilar mapping of FLFQPQRFamide and opiate brain receptors confirms our previous pharmacological findings in FLFQPQRFamide binding studies on rat spinal cord membranes, showing that FLFQPQRFamide receptors are different from opiate receptors. There was a good correspondence between localization of binding sites and that of the putative endogenous peptide. Both occur in brain areas previously associated with analgesic action of opiates. However, the mapping of FLFQPQRFamide receptors in the central nervous system suggests that the FLFQPQRFamide system could be implicated in other physiological functions.