The distribution of the serotonin (5-HT) receptor 5-HT2C mRNA was examined at the single-cell level with in situ hybridization histochemistry and emulsion autoradiography in the basal ganglia and mesolimbic system of adult rats, with focus on the pallidum and the substantia nigra, which receive striatal inputs and play a critical role in basal ganglia function. 5-HT2C receptor mRNA expression was always restricted to a subpopulation of neurons in the regions examined. In the neostriatum, labeled neurons were more numerous in the rostral nucleus accumbens than in the caudal nucleus accumbens and were more numerous in the ventral and ventrolateral caudate-putamen than in the dorsal caudate-putamen, where labeled neurons were restricted to isolated clusters. In striatal target areas, dense labeling in the entopeduncular nucleus (internal pallidum, direct striatal output pathway) contrasted with an absence of labeling in the globus pallidus (external pallidum, indirect striatal output pathway). Double-label in situ hybridization in the substantia nigra revealed coexpression of 5-HT2C receptor mRNA with glutamic acid decarboxylase but not with tyrosine hydroxylase mRNA, indicating that it was restricted to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic neurons. In this region, dense labeling for 5-HT2C mRNA was found in half of the neurons at middle and caudal levels of both the pars compacta and the pars reticulata, with little labeling rostrally. The data suggest that drugs acting on the 5-HT2C receptor could selectively affect discrete neuronal populations in the basal ganglia and mesolimbic systems and indicate a new level of neurochemical heterogeneity among GABAergic neurons of the substantia nigra.