We have investigated the regional distribution of 5-hydroxytryptamine4 (5-HT4) receptor binding sites in the adult guinea pig, rat and mouse brain using the specific 5-HT4 antagonist [3H]GR113808 as a radioligand. The developmental changes in the expression of these binding sites were also investigated quantitatively in the rat brain (gestational days 16 and 19; postnatal days 1, 3, 7, 9, 12 and 21). In order to compare previously obtained data on primary cultures, semi-quantitative analysis was also performed during mouse brain ontogeny (postnatal days 1, 7 and 11). The main finding of this study is that 5-HT4 receptors have comparable, wide and heterogeneous distributions in the adult brain of the species investigated, with densities reaching adult levels between the second and third postnatal week in most regions of the rat and mouse brain. In contrast, a progressive loss of 5-HT4 binding sites is observed in the pons, whereas a transient peak of receptor expression is seen during the second postnatal week in the globus pallidus and substantia nigra pars lateralis. The developmental pattern of 5-HT4 receptor distribution suggests, except in latter regions, that these receptors probably exert a minor role in developmental processes. In the adult, high densities of [3H]GR113808 binding sites are present in various regions belonging to limbic system (islands of Calleja, olfactory tubercle, fundus striati, ventral pallidum, septal region, hippocampus, amygdala), or known to be components of different pathways, such as the hippocampo-habenulo-interpeduncular and the striato-nigro-tectal pathways. While the regional distributions of [3H]GR113808 binding sites were identical in the mouse and rat, some differences were observed in the guinea-pig, in particular in the globus pallidus, substantia nigra and interpeduncular nucleus. The expression of 5-HT4 receptors in limbic areas is highly suggestive of a role for these receptors in emotional processes, whereas their expression in the striato-nigral-tectal pathway might be indicative of a role in the control of visuo-motor activity.