Subsets of neurons ensheathed by perineuronal nets containing chondroitin unsulfated proteoglycan have been immunohistochemically mapped throughout the rat central nervous system from the olfactory bulb to the spinal cord. A variable proportion of neurons were outlined by immunoreactivity for the monoclonal antibody (Mab 1B5), but only after chondroitinase ABC digestion. In forebrain cortical structures the only immunoreactive nets were around interneurons; in contrast, throughout the brainstem and spinal cord a large proportion of projection neurons were surrounded by intense immunoreactivity. Immunoreactivity was ordinarily found in the neuropil between neurons surrounded by an immunopositive net. By contrast, within the pyriform cortex the neuropil of the plexiform layer was intensely immunoreactive even though no perineuronal net could be found. The presence of perineuronal nets could not be correlated with any single class of neurons; however a few functionally related groups (e.g., motor and motor-related structures: motor neurons both in the spinal cord and in the efferent somatic nuclei of the brainstem, deep cerebellar nuclei, vestibular nuclei; red nucleus, reticular formation; central auditory pathway: ventral cochlear nucleus, trapezoid body, superior olive, nucleus of the lateral lemniscus, inferior colliculus, medial geniculate body) were the main components of the neuronal subpopulation displaying chondroitin unsulfated proteoglycans in the surrounding extracellular matrix. The immunodecorated neurons found in the present study and those shown by different monoclonal antibodies or by lectin cytochemistry, revealed consistent overlapping of their distribution patterns.