In situ hybridization histochemistry was used to map the distribution of α2, α3, α4, and β2 nAChR subunit mRNAs throughout the peripheral vestibular system of the rat. The α4 and β2 nAChR subunit genes were co-expressed by populations of primary afferent neurons within Scarpa's ganglion, while there was no expression of the α2, α3, α4, or β2 nAChR subunit genes by type I or type II vestibular hair cells. α-bungarotoxin binding to nAChRs in the vestibular end-organs was primarily limited to the afferent chalices surrounding type I hair cells and the basal aspect of type II hair cells. These data suggest that nAChRs composed of α4 and β2 subunits are localized on afferent chalices innervating the type I vestibular hair cells and that the direct cholinergic efferent innervation of the type II vestibular hair cells utilizes nAChR composed of other subunits.