The regional distribution of dopamine (DA) uptake sites in the rat brain has been studied by quantitative autoradiography using [3H]GBR 12935 as a ligand. The binding of [3H]GBR 12935 to striatal sections was saturable and of high affinity (Kd = 1.6 nM); it occurred at a single population of sites and possessed the pharmacological features of the DA uptake sites. The highest densities of [3H]GBR 12935 binding sites were found in the caudate-putamen, nucleus accumbens, olfactory tubercle, ventral tegmental area and substantia nigra (especially in the pars compacta). Moderate levels of [3H]GBR 12935 binding were observed in globus pallidus, thalamus, hypothalamus, hippocampus, amygdala (basolateral nucleus) and prefrontal and singular cortices. This regional distribution of [3H]GBR 12935 binding closely correlated with the reported distribution of dopaminergic nerve terminals. The topographical distribution of [3H]GBR 12935 has also been studied in detail in striatal subregions and this distribution was compared, using quantitative TH immunoreactivity, to the density of striatal dopaminergic nerve terminals. There is good overlapping between these two regional distributions, the highest density of both markers was found in the lateral part of the striatum and a similar rostro-caudal gradient has been observed. A dopaminergic denervation caused a complete loss of [3H]GBR 12935 in basal ganglia ipsilateral to the lesion.