Localization of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) alpha 4 subunits was investigated in rat cerebral cortex using a monoclonal antibody against alpha 4 subunits. The antibody depleted more than 70% of the [3H]methylcarbamylcholine choline binding activity of the solubilized membrane fraction. By light microscopy alpha 4-like immunoreactivity (alpha 4-LI) was found through layers II to VI. The immunostaining was the most prominent in cell bodies and apical dendrites of pyramidal cells in layer V. By electron microscopy most immunoreaction products were observed in the rough endoplasmic reticulum, cytoplasmic matrix and synaptic membranes. Alpha 4-LI was detected in the postsynaptic membranes of neuronal cell bodies and apical dendrites. These findings suggest that alpha 4-containing subtypes serve as one possibly the postsynaptic nAChR in rat cerebral cortex.