By use of the indirect immunofluorescence technique the distribution of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP)-like immunoreactivity (LI) has been analyzed in cervical and lumbar dorsal root ganglia of untreated and colchicine-treated rats. In addition, lumbar ganglia were examined 2 weeks after transection of the sciatic nerve. The occurrence of CGRP-positive cells in relation to ganglion cells containing substance P-, somatostatin-, galanin-, cholecystokinin (CCK)-, and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP)/peptide histidine isoleucin (PHI)-LI has been evaluated on consecutive sections as well as using elution-restaining and double-staining techniques. CGRP-LI was observed in many ganglion cells of all sizes ranging in diameter from 15 microns to 65 microns. Thus, this peptide occurs also in the large primary sensory neurons. In contrast to the sensory peptides described to date, CGRP-positive cells constituted up to 50% of all and 70% of the medium-sized neurons, thus being the most frequently occurring peptide in sensory neurons so far encountered. Subpulations of CGRP-positive neurons were shown to contain substance P-, somatostatin-, or galanin-LI and some CGRP-positive neurons contained both substance P- and galanin-LI. In fact, most substance P-, somatostatin- and galanin-positive cell bodies were CGRP-immunoreactive. The coexistence analysis further revealed that galanin and substance P often coexisted and that some cells contained both substance P- and somatostatin-LI, whereas no coexistence between galanin and somatostatin has as yet been seen. VIP/PHI-LI was only shown in a few cells in untreated or colchicine-treated rats. However, after transection of the sciatic nerve numerous VIP/PHI-positive cells were observed, some of which also contained CGRP-LI. The present results indicate that a CGRP-like peptide is present in a wide range of primary sensory neurons probably not related to specific sensory modalities. Often this peptide coexists with other biologically active peptides. Taken together these findings suggest that CGRP may have a generalized function.