Cholecystokinin (CCK) binding sites were localized by in vitro autoradiography in human postmortem brain materials from 12 patients without reported neurological diseases using [125I]Bolton-Hunter CCK octapeptide (BHCCK-8) as a ligand. The pharmacological characteristics of BHCCK-8 binding to mounted tissue sections were comparable to those previously reported in the rat. CCK-8 being the most potent displacer, followed by caerulein, CCK-4, and gastrin I. The distribution of BHCCK-8 binding sites was heterogeneous. These sites were highly concentrated in a limited number of gray matter areas and nuclei. The highest binding densities were seen in the glomerular and external plexiform layers of the olfactory bulb. BHCCK-8 binding sites were also enriched in the neocortex, where they presented a laminar distribution with low levels in lamina I, moderate concentration in laminae II to IV, high density in lamina V, and low levels in lamina VI. A different laminar distribution was seen in the visual cortex, where a low receptor density was observed in lamina IV but higher density in laminae II and VI. In the basal ganglia the nucleus accumbens, caudatus, and the putamen presented moderate to high densities of binding sites, while the globus pallidus lacked sites of BHCCK-8 binding. In the limbic system the only area presenting moderate to high density was the amygdaloid complex, particularly in the granular nucleus, while most of the thalamic nuclei were extremely poor or lacked BHCCK-8 binding. The hippocampal formation showed low (CA1-3) to moderate (subiculum) densities. Midbrain areas generally disclosed very low levels of BHCCK-8 binding sites. The pontine gray and the nucleus reticularis tegmenti pontis showed a relatively high density of CCK-8 receptor specific binding. Moderate to very high densities were found in few nuclei of the lower brainstem and spinal cord as the inferior olives and their accessory nuclei, the arcuate nuclei, the striae medullares, the efferent (motor) nucleus of the vagus, and the substantia gelatinosa of the cervical and thoracic spinal cord. These results are discussed in relation to the distribution of endogenous peptide and to the known physiological and pharmacological effects of substances acting on these receptors.