Endogenous cytochrome oxidase activity was investigated in the adult rat striatum at the light microscope level to see if it was distributed in accordance with the established striatal patch/matrix compartmentalisation. Striatal sections stained to visualise cytochrome oxidase activity were compared with serial sections stained to visualise tyrosine hydroxylase and calbindinD28k-like immunoreactivity, established markers of the matrix compartment. The distribution of endogenous cytochrome oxidase activity was found to coincide with the immunocytochemical staining pattern seen for tyrosine hydroxylase and calbindinD28k whereby areas of intense tyrosine hydroxylase and calbindinD28k-like immunoreactivity (termed the matrix) corresponded to areas of intense cytochrome oxidase activity. Conversely, areas of less intense tyrosine hydroxylase and calbindinD28k-like immunoreactivity (termed patches) corresponded to areas of low cytochrome oxidase activity. In addition, the distribution of two other oxidative enzymes involved in the regulation of mitochondrial respiration, succinic dehydrogenase and NADH-diaphorase, was examined in the striatum and substantia nigra by using histochemical techniques. Both NADH-diaphorase and succinic dehydrogenase histochemistry showed an uneven pattern of neuropil staining in the striatum. In the substantia nigra a few intensely stained cell bodies were seen in the dorsal-lateral tip of the pars reticulata with both histochemical techniques. By using an anti-cytochrome oxidase antibody an abundance of immunoreactive cell bodies and processes were seen in the substantia nigra, particularly in the dorso-medial rim and dorsal tip of the pars reticulata. The substantia nigra pars lateralis contained many intensely stained cytochrome oxidase-like immunoreactive cell bodies and processes. Our results demonstrate that the neurochemically distinct compartments of the adult rat striatum contain differential amounts of endogenous cytochrome oxidase activity suggesting that the matrix compartment is more metabolically active than the patch compartment. This difference in metabolic activity may reflect a difference in synaptic activity between the two striatal compartments.