We have characterized in adult rat the tissue-specific expression of the nicotinic ACh receptor (AChR) beta 2-subunit using antisera raised against fusion protein constructs. Immunohistochemical localization revealed immunoreactivity distributed throughout the neuraxis. Overall, beta 2-like immunoreactivity (beta 2-LI) correlated well with in situ localization of beta 2 transcript in neuronal cell bodies. Particularly strong labeling was detected in the thalamus, and scattered other regions, whereas relatively weak staining was observed in the hypothalamus and amygdala. At the cellular level, beta 2-LI appeared to be exclusively neuronal and concentrated predominantly in perikarya, although strongly positive dendrites (cerebral cortical pyramidal neurons, cerebellar Purkinje cells) and axon terminals (e.g., striatum) were detected. At the ultrastructural level, beta 2-LI was membrane associated, with strong staining observed in endoplasmic reticulum and cytoplasmic transport vesicles. beta 2-LI was rarely detected at synapses. The widespread distribution of beta 2 suggests it may serve as a common subunit in different AChR combinations in various brain regions. Regulation of the expression of beta 2-subunit appears to be relatively unrestrained, with an apparent excess of protein synthesized in the cytoplasm relative to that which ultimately arrives at functional targets in the plasma membrane.