This study investigated the morphology and quantitative distribution of neurons containing NADPH diaphorase activity in the ventral lateral geniculate nucleus of the rat. The pattern of diaphorase staining revealed a strongly reactive lateral subdivision and a weakly staining medial subdivision. A characteristic feature of the diaphorase staining in the lateral part was its "stripe-like" appearance. These "diaphorase stripes" resulted from regions of strong somatic and neuropil diaphorase activity lying between unstained fibre bundles coursing dorsoventrally through the nucleus. Two distinct populations of diaphorase reactive cell types were present--class A and class B neurons. The ratio of class A to class B diaphorase neurons was approximately 14:1 (A:B). Diaphorase reactive neurons made up 73% of the total neuron population in the lateral subdivision, and 31% in the medial subdivision. A third population of cells was found exclusively in the optic tract--class C neurons. Quantitative analyses in the coronal and sagittal planes indicated that the principal processes of both class A and class B neurons were oriented preferentially--either parallel with, or perpendicular to the outlying optic tract. Diaphorase enzyme histochemistry in combination with GABA immunocytochemistry demonstrated the co-localization of GABA immunoreactivity in the majority of class B neurons, whereas class A and class C neurons were GABA immunonegative. Furthermore a large population of GABA-immunoreactive neurons was present that were not stained for diaphorase activity. From this and previous studies, it can be concluded that a high proportion of the diaphorase reaction class A neurons are geniculotectal projection cells, while diaphorase reaction class B neurons represent a numerically small subpopulation of "local-circuit" inhibitory neurons. Since diaphorase activity co-localizes with nitric oxide synthase, the results indicate the likely involvement of nitric oxide in the neuronal operations of both subpopulations of geniculotectal projection neurons and "local-circuit" GABAergic neurons in the rat's ventral lateral geniculate nucleus.