The modulatory actions of dopamine on the flow of cortical information through the basal ganglia are mediated mainly through two subtypes of receptors, the D1 and D2 receptors. In order to examine the precise cellular and subcellular location of these receptors, immunocytochemistry using subtype specific antibodies was performed on sections of rat basal ganglia at both the light and electron microscopic levels. Both peroxidase and pre-embedding immunogold methods were utilized. Immunoreactivity for both D1 and D2 receptors was most abundant in the neostriatum where it was mainly contained within spiny dendrites and in perikarya. Although some of the immunoreactive perikarya had characteristics of interneurons, most were identified as medium-sized spiny neurons. Immunoreactivity for D1 receptor but not D2 receptor was associated with the axons of the striatonigral pathway and axons and terminals in the substantia nigra pars reticulata and the entopeduncular nucleus. In contrast, D2 immunoreactivity but not D1 immunoreactivity was present in the dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta and ventral pars reticulata. In the globus pallidus, little immunoreactivity for either D1 or D2 receptor was detected. At the subcellular level, D1 and D2 receptor immunoreactivity was found to be mainly associated with the internal surface of cell membranes. In dendrites and spines immunoreactivity was seen in contact with the membranes postsynaptic to terminals forming symmetrical synapses and less commonly, asymmetrical synapses. The morphological features and membrane specializations of the terminals forming symmetrical synapses are similar to those of dopaminergic terminals previously identified by immunocytochemistry for tyrosine hydroxylase. In addition to immunoreactivity associated with synapses, a high proportion of the immunoreactivity was also on membranes at non-synaptic sites. It is concluded that dopamine receptor immunoreactivity is mainly associated with spiny output neurons of the neostriatum and that there is a selective association of D1 receptors with the so-called direct pathway of information flow through the basal ganglia, i.e. the striatoentopeduncular and striatonigral pathways. Although there is an association of receptor immunoreactivity with afferent synaptic inputs a high proportion is located at extrasynaptic sites.