G-protein-gated inward rectifier potassium (GIRK) channels are coupled to numerous neurotransmitter receptors in the brain and can play important roles in modulating neuronal function, depending on their localization in a given neuron. Site-directed antibodies to the extreme C terminus of GIRK1 (or KGA1), a recently cloned component of GIRK channels, have been used to determine the relative expression levels and distribution of the protein in different regions of the rat brain by immunoblot and immunohistochemical techniques. We report that the GIRK1 protein is expressed prominently in the olfactory bulb, hippocampus, dentate gyrus, neocortex, thalamus, cerebellar cortex, and several brain stem nuclei. In addition to the expected localization in somas and dendrites, where GIRK channels may mediate postsynaptic inhibition, GIRK1 proteins were also found in axons and their terminal fields, suggesting that GIRK channels can also modulate presynaptic events. Furthermore, the distribution of the protein to either somatodendritic or axonal-terminal regions of neurons varied in different brain regions, which would imply distinct functions of these channels in different neuronal populations. Particularly prominent staining of the cortical barrels of layer IV of the neocortex, and the absence of this staining with unilateral kainate lesions of the thalamus, suggest that the GIRK1 protein is expressed in thalamocortical nerve terminals in which GIRK channels may mediate the actions of mu opiate receptors.