Retrograde tracing of the fluorescent marker, True Blue, has been used together with immunohistochemistry employing antibodies to substance P, calcitonin gene-related peptide, somatostatin, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide and morphine-modulating peptide to study the afferent innervation of the stomach in rat, mouse and guinea-pig. Up to 85% of spinal afferents to the stomach in all three species contained immunoreactive calcitonin gene-related peptide, and up to 50% contained substance P. In all three species less than 10% of vagal afferents to the stomach reacted with antibodies to calcitonin gene-related peptide, or substance P. Cacitonin gene-related peptide-immunoreactive fibres were found in the myenteric plexus, circular muscle and around submucosal blood vessels in the stomach. In the rat, removal of the coeliac ganglion, splanchnic nerve section, or capsaicin treatment virtually abolished calcitonin gene-related peptide immunoreactivity in the stomach. Capsaicin and splanchnic section also abolished the staining of immunoreactive calcitonin gene-related peptide fibres in the coeliac ganglion. The same treatments abolished substance P staining of fibres around submucosal blood vessels, but in the myenteric plexus and circular smooth muscle there were still abundant immunoreactive fibres, presumably arising from intrinsic cell bodies. No somatostatin-containing visceral afferents could be found, although somatostatin was localized to cell bodies in rat dorsal root ganglia. Immunoreactive vasoactive intestinal polypeptide-containing dorsal root ganglia neurons were not found; although antibodies to morphine-modulatory peptide revealed immunoreactive nerve cell bodies, we were unable to exclude the possibility that this result is attributable to cross reactivity with calcitonin gene-related peptide. These results provide direct evidence that calcitonin gene-related peptide is a marker for a major subset of visceral primary afferent neurons and suggest that this population of spinal afferents makes a major contribution to the total gastric content of calcitonin gene-related peptide.