Little is known about the levels of nicotinic ACh receptors (AChRs) in neurons prior to innervation and whether the distribution and number of receptors change in response to innervation. In the present study, AChR levels were examined in developing chick ciliary ganglion neurons in situ at stages preceding and during early and late phases of synaptogenesis. AChRs were localized in surface and intracellular pools of intact and saponin-permeabilized ganglionic neurons, respectively, by using a highly sensitive immunocytochemical approach that included the binding of an anti-AChR monoclonal antibody (mAb) followed by a biotinylated secondary antibody and an avidin-biotinylated HRP complex. At older stages of development, embryonic day (ED) 7–7.5 and ED 11, when all of the neurons are known to be receiving synaptic contacts, AChRs were present in both internal and surface pools. Within the neurons, AChRs were associated with organelles that function in the biosynthesis, processing, and transport of integral plasma membrane proteins. On the surface of the neurons, AChRs were predominantly localized in the specialized postsynaptic membrane, with low levels of AChRs being present in extrasynaptic regions. The earliest stage at which synapses could be detected in the ganglion was ED 4.5. Synapses were detected by light microscopic immunocytochemical labeling with anti-SV2, an mAb to a synaptic vesicle protein, and by ultrastructural analysis. At this stage, most of the neurons were not labeled by the anti-AChR mAb, while a few neurons had dense deposits of reaction product on the rough endoplasmic reticulum and portions of the nuclear envelope. Low levels of reaction product were also found on the surface of a small number of neurons, being localized predominantly on the specialized postsynaptic membrane of the few immature synapses present. Occasionally, small patches of labeling were observed in extrasynaptic regions. In contrast, little internal and no surface anti-AChR immunolabeling was detected in ciliary ganglion neurons prior to innervation, at ED 3.5–4. The finding of a large increase in both internal and surface AChR levels in the neurons at the time of innervation suggests that signals from the presynaptic input play an important role in the induction of AChR expression in neurons.