Knowledge of the distribution and function of the vanilloid receptor (VR-1 or TRPV1) in the CNS lacks the detailed appreciation of its role in the peripheral nervous system. The radiolabelled vanilloid agonist [3H]resiniferatoxin (RTX) has been used to indicate the presence of TRPV1 receptor protein in the brain but low specific binding has complicated interpretation of this data. Recently, support for a more widespread CNS distribution of TRPV1 mRNA and protein has been provided by RT-PCR and antibody data. We have exploited the availability of TRPV1 null mice and used [3H]RTX autoradiography in the CNS of TRPV1 wild-type and TRPV1 null mice to identify the component of [3H]RTX binding to TRPV1 receptor protein. In the brains of TRPV1+/+ mice, specific [3H]RTX binding was broadly localised with the greatest binding in the olfactory nuclei, the cerebral cortex, dentate gyrus, thalamus, hypothalamus, periaqueductal grey, superior colliculus, locus coeruleus and cerebellar cortex. Specific binding was also seen in the spinal cord and sensory (dorsal root and trigeminal) ganglia. This binding was much lower but not abolished in most regions in the TRPV1-/- mice. Nonspecific binding was low in all cases. The present study unequivocally demonstrates a widespread and discrete distribution pattern of the TRPV1 receptor protein in the rat central nervous system. The presence of TRPV1 receptors in several brain regions suggests that it may function as a cannabinoid-gated channel in the CNS.