Metabotropic glutamate receptors, which are linked via G-proteins to second messenger systems, have been implicated in the physiological regulation of dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra pars compacta as well as in neurodegeneration. Of the eight known metabotropic glutamate receptors, metabotropic glutamate receptor 1 is the most abundant subtype in the substantia nigra pars compacta. Metabotropic glutamate receptor 1 is alternatively spliced at the carboxy terminal region to yield five variants: 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d and a form recently identified in human brain, 1g. We used an antibody recognizing metabotropic glutamate receptor 1, and another recognizing the splice form 1a only, to study the localization of these receptors in dopaminergic neurons identified by the presence of tyrosine hydroxylase. Metabotropic glutamate receptor immunoreactivity was present within the somata, axons, and dendrites of substantia nigra pars compacta neurons. The 1a splice form specific antibody, however, did not label these cells, suggesting that they express a metabotropic glutamate receptor 1 splice form different from 1a. In situ hybridization with splice form- specific oligonucleotide probes was used to determine which of the other known metabotropic glutamate receptor 1 splice forms might be present in the substantia nigra pars compacta. Each probe produced a very distinct labelling pattern in the rat brain with the exception of the 1g specific probe which produced only background signal. Substantia nigra pars compacta neurons were most intensely labelled by the metabotropic glutamate receptor 1d splice form specific probe. Metabotropic glutamate receptor 1a was expressed weakly whereas there was no detectable 1b, c, or g signal in the substantia nigra pars compacta. These data demonstrate that metabotropic glutamate receptor I protein is present within the perikarya and processes of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta. The majority of this protein is not the 1a splice form, which is abundant in other brain regions, and may be the 1d isoform. Since splicing alters the carboxy terminus of the receptor, it is likely to affect the interaction of the receptor with intracellular signalling systems.