Serial 50 microns Nissl-stained sections through the midbrain and pontine central gray of four adult humans (mean age 56 years, mean postmortem delay 3 hours) were analysed and the subnuclei of the dorsal raphe nucleus (DR) delineated on the basis of neuronal morphology and density. Five subnuclei were apparent: the interfascicular, ventral, ventrolateral, dorsal, and caudal. The area of each subnucleus was measured in sections selected at regular intervals throughout the length of the DR. The number of neurons was counted and their density within each subnucleus calculated. The dorsal subnucleus was the largest and contained the majority of neurons but had the lowest neuronal density. The ventrolateral subnucleus had the highest density of neurons. A total of 235,000 +/- 15,000 neurons (average of 1,200 +/- 200 neurons per section) were found within a volume of 71.3 +/- 4.5 mm3 of DR with a mean neuronal density of 3,300 +/- 200 neurons/mm3. Morphometric and morphological analysis of DR neurons revealed four distinct neuron types: round, ovoid, fusiform, and triangular. These types of neurons characterized particular subnuclei. The location and boundaries of the subnuclei of the human dorsal raphe are presented in the form of an atlas. The subdivisions described are similar to that described in other mammals. On the basis of this information the location of particular projection neurons within the human dorsal raphe can be predicted and the effects of disease on this nucleus may be forecast.