The binding of [123I]AM251 (a radioiodinated analog of the cannabinoid CB1 receptor antagonist SR141716A) was compared to that of [3H]CP 55,940 in mouse and rat brain preparations. Scatchard analysis of the binding of [123I]AM251 and [3H]CP 55,940 to membranes prepared from mouse cerebellum, striatum and hippocampus yielded similar Bmax values (15-41 pmol/g wet wt tissue). Kd values were lower for [123I]AM251 (0.23-0.62 nM) than for [3H]CP 55,940 (1.3-4 nM). CP 55,940 and SR141716A increased dissociation of [123I]AM251 from binding sites in mouse cerebellar homogenates to a similar extent. The structurally dissimilar cannabinoid receptor ligands THC, methanandamide, WIN 55, 212-2, CP 55,940 and SR141716A were each able to fully compete with binding of both [123I]AM251 and [3H]CP 55,940 in mouse cerebellum. In vitro autoradiography demonstrated that the distribution of binding sites for [123I]AM251 in rat brain was very similar to published distributions of binding sites for [3H]CP 55,940. Together, these observations suggest that AM251 binds to the same site (the cannabinoid CB1 receptor) in rodent brains as CP 55,940. However, the binding site domains which interact with AM251 and CP 55,940 may not be identical, since IC50 values for cannabinoid receptor ligands depended on whether [123I]AM251 or [3H]CP 55,940 was used as radioligand.