The occurrence and origin of substance P (SP)-immunoreactive (IR) nerves in the lower respiratory tract was studied by means of immunohistochemistry in the guinea-pig, rat, cat and man. In addition, biopsies from human material were also analysed by radioimmunoassay. SP-IR nerves were seen in four principal locations: 1) under or within the lining epithelium, 2) around blood vessels, 3) within the bronchial smooth muscle layer, and 4) around local tracheobronchial ganglion cells. Ligation experiments combined with capsaicin pretreatments indicated that all SP-IR nerves in the respiratory tract are sensory. The trachea seems to be mainly supplied by the vagal nerves, while intrapulmonary bronchi and blood vessels receive SP-IR nerves of both vagal and non-vagal (spinal) origin. SP-IR nerves were also found in the human bronchi with principally similar location as in the guinea-pig. The levels of SP-IR in the trachea and peripheral bronchi of man were about 3-4 pmol/g, which is in the same range as the content of corresponding tissues from the guinea-pig. In conclusion, the present experimental findings of SP-IR nerves in the lower respiratory tract in both experimental animals and man support the functional evidence for the importance of SP in the vagal and non-vagal (spinal) control of bronchial smooth muscle tone and vascular permeability.