Vanilloid (capsaicin) receptors were visualized by [3H]resiniferatoxin (RTX) autoradiography in the brain of newborn as well as adult (both control and colchicine-treated) rats. Specific labelling was seen in the brain stem only, in the nucleus of the solitary tract extending into the area postrema and the spinal sensory nucleus of the trigeminal nerve. Also, a strong signal was seen in the dorsal horn, dorsal root, trigeminal and nodose ganglia. Membranes obtained from the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar segments of the spinal cord showed similar affinities for RTX and likewise for capsaicin and capsazepine; maximal receptor density was similar in the cervical and thoracic segments (approximately 70 fmol/mg protein) but was twice as high in the lumbar segment. 24 h after ligation of the vagal or the sciatic nerves, a strong accumulation of specific RTX binding sites was observed mainly proximal to the ligature, implying intraaxonal receptor transport from the nodose and dorsal root ganglia, respectively, to the periphery. Systemic (s.c.) vanilloid treatment depleted specific [3H]RTX binding sites from the brain stem, the sensory (dorsal root as well as trigeminal) ganglia, and the spinal cord. RTX was approximately 200-fold more potent than capsaicin for eliminating vanilloid receptors from the spinal cord. The present results suggest a discrete expression of vanilloid receptors in the brain stem (sensory nuclei); although intrinsic vanilloid receptor-expressing neurons are though to exist in the rat brain, they remain undetected by the present [3H]RTX autoradiography methodology.