The localization of the neurons expressing the acetylcholinesterase gene in the rat central nervous system was studied by in situ hybridization. The striatal and nigral neurons containing acetylcholinesterase messenger RNA were especially identified. Acetylcholinesterase messenger RNA was detected in numerous areas of the central nervous system, including cholinergic areas, like striatum, nucleus basalis of Meynert, septum and diagonal band of Broca, but also non-cholinergic areas, like the cerebral cortex, the hippocampus, the cerebellum and the raphe dorsalis. In the striatum, 75% of the neurons expressing the acetylcholinesterase gene were identified as cholinergic neurons and 25% as somatostatin-producing neurons. All dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra pars compacta and ventral tegmental area were demonstrated to express the acetylcholinesterase gene. Our results suggest that several neuronal populations could contribute to the presence of acetylcholinesterase in the striatum: the striatal cholinergic and somatostatin-containing interneurons, the nigral dopaminergic neurons and other neurons that may be the corticostriatal, thalamostriatal and raphe-striatal neurons. This demonstrates that, especially in the striatum, acetylcholinesterase is not a specific marker of the cholinergic neurons. The diversity of the origins of striatal acetylcholinesterase suggests a multiplicity of functions for this enzyme: besides its cholinolytic actions, it may also possibly play a non-cholinolytic role in neuromodulation.