The ability to create lesions of discrete neuronal populations is an important strategy for clarifying the function of these populations. The power of this approach is critically dependent upon the selectivity of the experimental lesioning technique. Anti-neuronal immunotoxins offer an efficient way to produce highly specific neural lesions. Two previous immunotoxins have been shown to be effective in both the CNS and PNS. They are OX7-saporin, which is targeted at Thy1, and 192-saporin, which is targeted at the low affinity neurotrophin receptor, p75NTR. In the present study, we sought to determine if an immunotoxin targeted at the neurotransmitter synthesizing enzyme, dopamine beta-hydroxylase (DBH), could selectively destroy central noradrenergic neurons after intraventricular administration. This immunotoxin, which consists of a monoclonal antibody to DBH coupled by a disulfide bond to saporin (a ribosome inactivating protein), has been shown to be selectively toxic to peripheral noradrenergic sympathetic neurons in rats after systemic injection. In the present study, immunohistochemical and Cresyl violet staining showed that the noradrenergic neurons of the locus coeruleus are destroyed bilaterally after intraventricular (i.c.v.) injection of 5, 10, and 20 micrograms of anti-DBH-saporin (alpha-DBH-sap) into rats. Complete bilateral lesioning of the A5 and A7 cell groups occurred at the two higher doses. Lesions of the A1/C1 and A2/C2/C3 cell groups were incomplete at all three doses. Dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area and serotonergic neurons of the raphé, all monoaminergic neurons that do not express DBH, survived all alpha-DBH-sap doses. The cholinergic neurons of the basal forebrain, which are selectively killed by i.c.v. injection of 192-saporin, and cerebellar Purkinje cells which are killed by OX7-saporin, were not killed by alpha-DBH-sap. These results show that alpha-DBH-sap efficiently and selectively destroys CNS noradrenergic neurons after i.c.v. injection. The preferential destruction of locus coeruleus, A5, and A7 over A1/C1 and A2/C2/C3 may be due to more efficient access of the immunotoxin to these neurons and their terminals after i.c.v. injection.