The rat brain contains two receptor systems for corticosterone (CORT): the glucocorticoid (GR) and corticosterone or mineralocorticoid-like (CR) receptor sites. We have studied the localization of these receptors by in vitro autoradiography and by in vitro cytosol binding assays in microdissected brain areas. In vitro autoradiography revealed that CR receptor sites are almost entirely restricted to the septal-hippocampal complex, whereas the presence of GR extends throughout the brain. Highest levels of GR are present in the lateral septum, hippocampal, cortical and thalamic regions and the paraventricular nucleus. In vitro determination of binding of 3H-labelled steroids to CR and GR in cytosol of "punched out" brain tissue revealed a similar neuroanatomical distribution as observed with the autoradiographic analysis. In addition, it was found that CORT binds to CR (KD approximately 0.5 nM) with 5-10-fold higher affinity than to GR (KD approximately 2.5-5 nM).