BACKGROUND & AIMS: Two distinct receptors, cholecystokinin (CCK)-A and CCK-B, mediate CCK effects in the digestive system. The aim of this study was to elucidate the cellular sites of expression of CCK-A receptor in the rat stomach and small intestine. METHODS: We developed and characterized an antibody to the N-terminal region (LDQPQPSKEWQSA) of rat CCK-A receptor and used it for localization studies with immunohistochemistry. RESULTS: Specificity of the antiserum was demonstrated by (1) detection of a broad band at 85-95 kilodaltons in Western blots of membranes from CCK-A receptor CHO-transfected cells; (2) cell surface staining of CCK-A receptor-transfected cells, (3) translocation of CCK-A receptor immunostaining in CCK-A receptor-transfected cells after exposure to CCK; and (4) abolition of tissue immunostaining by preadsorbtion of the antibody with the peptide used for immunization. CCK-A receptor immunoreactivity was localized to myenteric neurons and to fibers in the muscle and mucosa. In the stomach, myenteric neurons and mucosal fibers were abundant. Many CCK-A receptor myenteric neurons contained the inhibitory transmitter vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, and some were immunoreactive for the excitatory transmitter substance P. Subdiaphragmatic vagotomy reduced the density of CCK-A receptor fibers in the gastric mucosa by approximately 50%, whereas celiac/superior mesenteric ganglionectomy had no detectable effect on fiber density. CONCLUSIONS: CCK-A receptor is expressed in functionally distinct neurons of the gastrointestinal tract. CCK-A receptor may mediate reflexes stimulated by CCK through the release of other transmitters from neurons bearing the receptor.