The dopaminergic input to the frontal cortex has an important role in motor and cognitive functions. These effects are mediated by dopamine receptors both of type D1 and of type D2, although the neural circuits involved are not completely understood. We used in situ hybridization to determine the cellular localization of D1 and D2 receptor mRNAs in the rat frontal cortex. Retrograde tracing was used in the same animals to identify the main cortical efferent populations. Fluorogold was injected into the different cortical targets of the frontal cortex and sections were hybridized with D1 and D2 35S-labelled cRNA probes. D1 and D2 mRNA-containing neurons were present in all the cortical areas investigated, with greater expression in the medial prefrontal, insular and cingulate cortexes and lower expression in the motor and parietal cortexes. Neurons containing D1 mRNA were most abundant in layer VIb; they were also present in layers VIa and V of all cortical layers and in layer II of the medial prefrontal, cingulate and insular areas. Double labelling with fluorogold demonstrated that D1 mRNA was present in corticocortical, corticothalamic and corticostriatal neurons. Neurons containing D2 mRNA were essentially restricted to layer V, but only in corticostriatal and corticocortical neurons. Neither D1 nor D2 mRNA was found in corticospinal or corticopontine neurons. The present results demonstrate that D1 and D2 receptor genes are expressed in efferent cortical populations, with higher expression for D1. In spite of an overlap in some cortical layers, the expression of D1 and D2 receptor genes is specific for different categories of pyramidal neurons.