In order to improve the identification and characterization of dopaminoceptive neurons, the rat brain was mapped for D1 dopamine receptor mRNA by non-radioactive in situ hybridization (ISH) with a 45mer digoxigenin-labeled oligonucleotide probe. The specificity of the results was controlled with the help of a 396-bp D1 receptor riboprobe. Labeled hybrids were visualized with an alkaline phosphatase-coupled anti-digoxigenin antibody. The high resolution obtained permitted individual labeled cells to be identified and to distinction between cell bodies and processes. D1 mRNA was largely confined to neurons. With the exception of ependymal cells, glial cells were not distinctly labeled. Subcellularly, D1 mRNA was localized to perikarya but not to dendrites or axons. D1 receptor-expressing neurons were present in all of the known terminal fields of mesencephalic or diencephalic dopaminergic neurons. However, D1 message was also detected in brain areas which are not known to contain D1 ligand binding sites or in which the presence or the cellular source of this receptor subtype had previously not been unequivocally established, such as the hippocampus or cerebellar cortex. Moreover, labeled neurons were present in regions not known to receive dopaminergic projections, such as the thalamic and some brainstem nuclei. We conclude that this ISH technique provides a considerable gain in sensitivity and resolution with regard to neurotransmitter receptor mapping.