The distribution and immunocytochemical characterization of nerve fibers and their terminals in the posterior longitudinal ligament of the rat lumbar vertebral column was studied in whole-mount preparations and serial semithin and ultrathin sections. Differences in the localization, distribution pattern and density of peptidergic and catecholaminergic nerve fibers were found in the vertebral and intervertebral regions of the posterior longitudinal ligament. For immunocytochemistry, free floating specimens were incubated with primary antibodies against protein gene product 9.5, substance P, calcitonin gene-related peptide, dopamine-beta-hydroxylase, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide and neuropeptide Y together with the avidin-biotin-peroxidase method. In whole-mount preparations, the neural marker protein gene product 9.5 is immunostained in all unmyelinated nerve fibers in the posterior longitudinal ligament, thus giving a panoramic view of the nerve fiber plexus. The most striking nerve fiber plexus is localized in the intervertebral region. In this region, the posterior longitudinal ligament is rich in capillaries that form a dense plexus within its ventral part and extend to the outer layer of the annulus fibrosus. The peptidergic and catecholaminergic innervation of the posterior longitudinal ligament is discussed in the context of pain syndromes related to the vertebral column and degenerative lumbar spine diseases.