Four genes (alpha 2, alpha 3, alpha 4 and beta 2) have been reported as encoding subunits of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) in chicken brain. The mRNAs transcribed from these genes have here been localised to particular regions using in situ hybridisation histochemistry. The beta 2 mRNA was clearly the most abundant transcript, being widely distributed throughout the chick brain. In the cerebellum, all four mRNA species were present, although they showed different cellular patterns of distribution. Only alpha 2 mRNA and beta 2 mRNA were found in significant amounts in the optic tectum. In the lateral spiriform nucleus, while alpha 2 mRNA, alpha 4 mRNA and beta 2 mRNA were all very abundant, the alpha 4 mRNA was localised to a subgroup of neurons containing alpha 2 mRNA and beta 2 mRNA. This represents the first evidence that individual cells may express two different nAChR alpha subunit genes in vivo. The distributions of the 4 mRNA species showed few common features. This suggests that other neuronal nAChR genes remain to be identified, and that these 4 genes are not generally expressed in the same cells to constitute a single macromolecular complex. The results therefore provide evidence for nAChR heterogeneity in the central nervous system.