The postnatal development of the alpha 2-adrenoceptor pattern was investigated by in vitro receptor autoradiography with the antagonist [3H]rauwolscine in the brains of tree shrews (Tupaia belangeri). At birth, high numbers of [3H]rauwolscine binding sites are diffusely distributed in the whole brain with exception of the neocortex which is very weakly labeled at this time. While the number of [3H]rauwolscine binding sites in the cerebellum decreases to low levels during the first three postnatal weeks, several brain regions show a significant increase in binding sites which are progressively concentrated in distinct nuclei. In the medulla oblongata, the diffuse labeling pattern changes so that binding sites become centralized in the dorsomedial nuclei. In the pons, similar changes can be observed with a moderate labeling of the locus coeruleus on postnatal day 10 and a strong labeling in the adult. In the thalamus, a transient appearance of high numbers of [3H]rauwolscine binding sites can be observed during the second and third postnatal week in specific nuclei. In the preoptic area and hypothalamus, there are only minor postnatal changes but the numbers of [3H]rauwolscine binding sites decrease between postnatal day 5 and adulthood. The high number of binding sites in the limbic system does not significantly change after birth. In the neocortex and the superior colliculus, the [3H]rauwolscine labeling pattern which is characteristic for the adult is achieved not before the third postnatal week. Competition experiments demonstrate that [3H]RAUW binds with high affinity to alpha 2-adrenoceptors in the postnatal as well as in the adult brain. Therefore, this study demonstrates region specific developmental profiles of the pattern of alpha 2-adrenoceptors in the postnatal tree shrew brain.