The neuronal morphology of the rat subthalamic nucleus (STH) was studied using Golgi techniques and Nissl stain. The results show that the somatic shapes of STH neurons vary from fusiform to oval or polygonal. Somatic cross-sectional areas vary between 140 microns2 and 440 microns2. Some of the cells have a few somatic spines. Two to six primary dendrites gave rise to tapering daughter dendrites which extend up to 500 microns. These dendrites are sparsely covered with spines. Some distal dendrites and primary dendrites of the STH also bear filiform appendages. Neurons located in the deep portion of the STH have oval dendritic fields whose long axis is parallel to the long axis of the nucleus in frontal or sagittal planes. Some of these neurons have one or two dendrites which cross the borders of the STH into the zona incerta, the lateral hypothalamus, or the cerebral peduncle. Generally, neurons located at the borders of the STH have their dendritic fields extending parallel to the borders and are confined to the nucleus. However, some neurons adjacent to the ventrolateral border of the nucleus have some dendrites extending into the cerebral peduncle. Quantitative analysis of the STH neurons showed a unimodal distribution of somatic sizes as well as the number of primary dendrites. No neurons with obvious Golgi type II characteristics were found. Two types of afferent fibers were observed entering the STH. One type consists of axon collaterals arising from the cerebral peduncle ventrolaterally, or the internal capsule rostrally, while the other enters the nucleus after crossing the internal capsule rostrally. These results suggest that the rat STH is an open nucleus in contrast to other species such as man, monkey, and cat, where it is closed, and that the rat STH may contain only one type of neuron.