The binding of [3H]dihydrotetrabenazine, a specific ligand of the monoamine transporter present on serotonin and catecholamine synaptic vesicles, was studied on rat brain sections. The characteristics of binding (Kd = 5.0 nM, k1 = 0.13 x 10(6) M-1 s-1; k-1 = 0.66 x 10(-3) s-1) were similar to those previously observed on tissue homogenates. The rostrocaudal topographical distribution of dihydrotetrabenazine binding sites was analysed by quantitative autoradiography. High labelling was observed in regions richly innervated by monoaminergic systems: dopamine in the striatum and olfactory tubercles, noradrenaline in the striatal fissure and in the paraventricular and dorsomedial hypothalamus and serotonin in the lateral septum, islands of Calleja and suprachiasmatic nucleus. Cell bodies were also labelled in the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area (dopamine), in locus coeruleus (noradrenaline) and in raphe nucleus (serotonin). The pituitary gland (particularly the neural lobe) and the pineal gland were also labelled. Low labelling was observed in various areas of the cerebral cortex and in the cerebellum. Unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine lesion of the substantia nigra dramatically reduced [3H]dihydrotetrabenazine labelling in the ipsilateral striatum. Moreover, ketanserin has recently been shown to possess a nanomolar affinity for the vesicular monoamine transporter, and autoradiographic localization of brain monoaminergic synaptic vesicles was also obtained by means of the derivative 7-amino-8-[125I]iodoketanserin in the presence of 5-hydroxytryptamine2 and alpha 1 antagonists, although the non-specific labelling was higher than with [3H]dihydrotetrabenazine. It is concluded that [3H]dihydrotetrabenazine may represent a valuable monoaminergic marker in in vitro autoradiographic studies.