Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors are expressed in the human central nervous system. A specific subtype of this receptor family, the alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, is thought to be the principal alpha-bungarotoxin (alphaBTX)-binding protein in mammalian brain. Although the expression of this receptor subtype has been characterized in rat, no study has specifically compared the expression of both the alpha7 gene and the localization of BTX binding sites in human brain. Expression of alpha7 mRNA and receptor protein in human postmortem brain tissue was examined by in situ hybridization and [125I]-alpha-bungarotoxin autoradiography, respectively, with particular emphasis on regions associated with sensory processing. Regions with high levels of both alpha7 gene expression and [125I]-alphaBTX binding include the nucleus reticularis of the thalamus, the lateral and medial geniculate bodies, the basilar pontine nucleus, the horizontal limb of the diagonal band of Broca, the nucleus basalis of Meynert, and the inferior olivary nucleus. High-to-moderate levels of alpha7 probe hybridization were also seen in the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex; however, there was a reduced or variable degree of [125I]-alphaBTX binding in these regions compared with the level of probe hybridization. In most brain regions, [125I]-alphaBTX binding was localized to neuronal cell bodies similar in morphology to those that exhibited alpha7 hybridization, suggesting that the high-affinity [125I]-alphaBTX binding sites in the human brain are likely to be principally composed of alpha7 receptor subtypes.