Orphanin FQ (OFQ) is the endogenous agonist of the opioid receptor-like receptor (ORL-1). It and its precursor, prepro-OFQ, exhibit structural features suggestive of the opioid peptides. A cDNA encoding the OFQ precursor sequence in the rat recently has been cloned, and the authors recently generated a polyclonal antibody directed against the OFQ peptide. In the present study, the authors used in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry to examine the distribution of OFQ peptide and mRNA in the central nervous system of the adult rat. OFQ immunoreactivity and prepro-OFQ mRNA expression correlated virtually in all brain areas studied. In the forebrain, OFQ peptide and mRNA were prominent in the neocortex endopiriform nucleus, claustrum, lateral septum, ventral forebrain, hypothalamus, mammillary bodies, central and medial nuclei of the amygdala, hippocampal formation, paratenial and reticular nuclei of the thalamus, medial habenula, and zona incerta. No OFQ was observed in the pineal or pituitary glands. In the brainstem, OFQ was prominent in the ventral tegmental area, substantia nigra, nucleus of the posterior commissure, central gray, nucleus of Darkschewitsch, peripeduncular nucleus, interpeduncular nucleus, tegmental nuclei, locus coeruleus, raphe complex, lateral parabrachial nucleus, inferior olivary complex, vestibular nuclear complex, prepositus hypoglossus, solitary nucleus, nucleus ambiguous, caudal spinal trigeminal nucleus, and reticular formation. In the spinal cord, OFQ was observed throughout the dorsal and ventral horns. The wide distribution of this peptide provides support for its role in a multitude of functions, including not only nociception but also motor and balance control, special sensory processing, and various autonomic and physiologic processes.