Basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), a member of the heparin-binding growth factor family, is present in relatively high levels in the brain where it may play an important role in the maintenance, repair, and reorganization of the tissue. Although bFGF is associated mainly with astrocytes throughout most of the central nervous system (CNS), a narrow but prominent band of pyramidal neurons, which coincides with the CA2 subregion of Ammon's horn in the hippocampus, stains intensely for bFGF. In order to gain an understanding of which cells express bFGF and whether or not BFGF is a good marker for CA2 neurons, we have used a mouse monoclonal antibody directed against recombinant human bFGF to characterize the distribution and localization of bFGF expression in the hippocampus. We find that about one-quarter of the neurons in CA2 are bFGF positive, and they appear smaller and have more irregular-shaped nuclei than their unstained counterparts. In addition, all glial fibrilary acidic protein (GFAP)-positive astrocytes in the hippocampus stain for bFGF, and the distribution of these astrocytes is heterogeneous in the hippocampus. Finally, in both astrocytes and CA2 pyramidal neurons, bFGF immunoreactivity is localized primarily in the nucleus and to a lesser extent in the cytoplasm and processes of stained cells.