The organization of neurons in the rat central nucleus of the amygdala (CNA) has been examined by using Nissl stain and immunocytochemical and retrograde tracing techniques. Four main subdivisions were identified on the basis of quantitative analyses of Nissl-stained material: medial (CM), lateral (CL), lateral capsular (CLC), and ventral (CV). An intermediate subdivision (CI), previously described by McDonald ('82), was apparent only in animals that had HRP-WGA injected into the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. Large populations of neurotensin-, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF)-, and enkephalin-immunoreactive neurons were present within the lateral divisions (mainly CL), although they were also seen within CM. Somatostatin-immunoreactive neurons were distributed mainly within CL and CM. Within CL, neurotensin- and enkephalin-immunoreactive neurons were more numerous laterally whereas CRF- and somatostatin-immunoreactive neurons were more numerous medially. Substance P-immunoreactive neurons were almost exclusively confined to CM. Only a few cholecystokinin- and vasoactive-polypeptide-immunoreactive neurons were seen in the CNA, and they were observed within CL, CV, and CM. The majority of neurons projecting to the dorsal medulla, hypothalamus, and ventral tegmental area were located within CM, although a significant number of cells were also seen within CL. Efferent projections to the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis were found to arise from neurons located within all subdivisions of the CNA. Thus, the distributional patterns of peptidergic and efferent neurons were not confined to individual cytoarchitectonically- defined subdivisions of the CNA. Rather, the results suggest overlapping medial to the lateral trends. Comparisons with the results of previous studies indicate that peptidergic and afferent terminal distribution patterns are more restricted to individual cytoarchitectonically defined subregions of the CNA. These observations suggest that the detailed cytoarchitecture of the CNA more likely reflects the functional integration of afferents rather than the organization of the CNA output neurons.