The agonist [3H]nicotine was used as a photoaffinity label for the acetylcholine binding sites on the Torpedo nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR). [3H]nicotine binds at equilibrium with Keq = 0.6 microM to the agonist binding sites. Irradiation with 254-nm light of AChR-rich membranes equilibrated with [3H]nicotine resulted in covalent incorporation into the alpha- and gamma-subunits, which was inhibited by agonists and competitive antagonists but not by noncompetitive antagonists. Inhibition of labeling by d-tubocurarine demonstrated that the alpha-subunit was labeled via both agonist sites but the gamma-subunit was labeled only via the site that binds d-tubocurarine with high affinity. Within the alpha-subunit, 93% of the labeling was contained within a 20-kDa Staphylococcus aureus V8 proteolytic fragment beginning at Ser-173. Sequence analysis of this peptide indicated that approximately 80% of the incorporation was into Tyr-198, approximately 13% was into Cys-192, and approximately 7% was into Tyr-190. Chymotryptic digestion of the alpha-subunit confirmed that Tyr-198 was the principal amino acid labeled by [3H]nicotine. This confirmation required a novel radio-sequencing strategy employing omicron-phthalaldehyde, since the efficiency of photolabeling was low (approximately 1.0%) and the labeled chymotryptic peptide was not isolated in sufficient quantity to be identified by mass. [3H]Nicotine, which is the first photoaffinity agonist used, labels primarily Tyr-198 in contrast to competitive antagonist affinity labels, which label primarily Tyr-190 and Cys-192/Cys-193.