Neurons express high levels of a variant form of the c-src gene product, denoted pp60c-src(+), which contains a 6 amino acid insert in the amino-terminal half of the c-src protein. We have determined the localization of pp60c-src(+) in neurons using an affinity-purified anti- peptide antibody, referred to as affi-SB12, that exclusively recognizes this neuron-specific form of the c-src gene product. Using affi-SB12, we examined the distribution of pp60c-src(+) by immunoperoxidase staining of sections through adult rat brains, pp60c-src(+) was widely distributed in rat brain and appeared to be differentially expressed in subpopulations of neurons. The majority of immunoreactive neurons was found in the mesencephalon, cerebellum, pons, and medulla. Telencephalic structures that contained substantial populations of pp60c-src(+)-immunoreactive neurons included layer V of the cerebral cortex and the ventral pallidum. Within individual neurons, pp60c- src(+) immunoreactivity was localized to the cell soma and dendritic processes, while labeling of axons and nerve terminals (puncta) was not as readily detected. Dense accumulations of immunoreactive axons were rare, being most prominent in portions of the inferior and superior olive, and in the spinal trigeminal nucleus. While the regional distribution of pp60c-src(+) immunoreactivity does not correlate with any specific neuronal cell type or first messenger system, this unique pattern of expression of pp60c-src(+) suggests the existence of a previously uncharacterized functional organization within the brain. Furthermore, the localization of this neuron-specific tyrosine kinase in functionally important areas of the nerve cell, namely, dendritic processes, axons, and nerve terminals, suggests that pp60c-src(+) may regulate pleiotropic functions in specific classes of neurons in the adult central nervous system.