Form deprivation myopia in chickens is a widely accepted model to study visually-regulated postnatal ocular growth. Recently we showed that basic fibroblast growth factor-2 provides a "stop" signal for the growing eye. To understand further its action, we have localized basic fibroblast growth factor-2 and its low- and high-affinity receptors in the chicken eye, and determined the localization of basic fibroblast growth factor receptors in the inner plexiform layer with respect to that of neurotransmitter systems known to play a role in form-deprivation myopia. By immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridization, two complementary methods, we found that nearly all cells in the retina, and scleral chondrocytes, contain basic fibroblast growth factor-2 protein and messenger RNA as well as high-affinity basic fibroblast growth factor receptor protein and messenger RNA. Immunocytochemical localization of basic fibroblast growth factor-2 binding sites (a high resolution alternative to autoradiography), combined with N-glycanase and heparitinase treatment or heparin competition, revealed additional binding sites in specific synaptic layers of the inner plexiform layer and low-affinity binding sites in the choroid and optic fibre layer. Some binding sites in the synaptic layers were found to co-stratify with neurites of dopamine-, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide- or enkephalin-containing amacrine cells, suggesting that basic fibroblast growth factor-2 could modulate synaptic transmission to or from these cells. Form deprivation did not affect the levels of basic fibroblast growth factor receptor-1 messenger RNA in retina/retinal pigment epithelium/choroid (Northern blotting), but it abolished the decrease in amount of extractable basic fibroblast growth factor normally observed in the dark (Western blotting). The results are discussed with respect to previous findings on basic fibroblast growth factor-2 and basic fibroblast growth factor receptor-1 localization in the avian and other vertebrate eyes, and their relevance to form-deprivation myopia. The widespread distribution of basic fibroblast growth factor-2 and its receptor makes it impossible to predict which cells might mediate the action of basic fibroblast growth factor-2 in form-deprivation myopia. However, the alteration in amounts of extractable retinal basic fibroblast growth factor-2 in form-deprived, dark-adapted retinas, in which basic fibroblast growth factor-2 probably serves as a "stop" signal for ocular growth, is consistent with a role for basic fibroblast growth factor-2 in the regulation of ocular growth.