The nature of the association of substance P (SP) with taste buds in the rat tongue was investigated by immunohistochemical and radioimmunoassay techniques. Both the circumvallate and fungiform papillae were found to receive a rich innervation by substance P-containing fibres. Although these fibres were closely associated with the taste buds in these structures, they assumed a perigemmal rather than an intragemmal location. Bilateral lesions of the glossopharyngeal nerve resulted in the depletion of taste buds from the vallate papilla and a large reduction in substance P immunoreactive fibres in this area. Lesions of the chorda tympani, which led to the degeneration of taste buds in fungiform papillae, had no effect on the immunohistochemical appearance of substance P in these papilla or on the substance P levels in the anterior part of the tongue. Lesions of the mandibular division of the trigeminal nerve or neonatal capsaicin treatment had no effect on the structural integrity of taste buds in fungiform papillae but led to the depletion of substance P-immunoreactive fibres from these papillae. Both of these procedures caused a 71% reduction in the substance P content of the anterior tongue, ipsilaterally after the nerve lesion and bilaterally after capsaicin treatment. The results are discussed in relation to the possible functional role of substance P-containing fibres within nerves supplying taste structures of the tongue.