Dopamine Transporter (DAT) binding sites in medial temporal lobe structures are much less dense than in striatum and have been difficult to image and quantitate. The recently synthesized compound [125I]RTI-121 ([125I]2 beta-carboxylic acid isopropyl ester-3 beta-(4-iodophenyl)tropane) has demonstrated high specificity and affinity for the DAT in preliminary animal studies. The present experiments were designed to delineate the pharmacological and anatomical characteristics of [125I]RTI-121 binding sites in the striatum and medial temporal lobe of normal humans. A series of saturation experiments performed with striatal membrane preparations generated a one-site model with a KD averaging 1.49 +/- 0.06 nM, and a Bmax that was comparable to those of earlier reports. Competition experiments confirmed the selectivity of [125I]RTI-121 for DAT binding sites. After the assay conditions for autoradiography were optimized, [125I]RTI-121 binding was visualized, pharmacologically characterized and quantitated in human temporal lobe structures. In the hippocampus, specific binding was distributed in the CA4 and CA3 pyramidal cell layers, the outer stratum radiatum and the dentate molecular layer, but not in the dentate granule cells or outer pyramidal cells. In the amygdala specific binding was limited to the basolateral nuclei. Dopamine nerve terminals, as identified with [125I]RTI-121 binding, also displayed a discrete and homologous innervation pattern in the amygdala and hippocampus of several other mammalian species. In summary, the kinetic, saturation, competition and autoradiographic experiments demonstrated that [125I]RTI-121 can be used to identify DAT binding sites and to assess their functional state in post mortem human brain samples.