Urotensin II (UII) is a cyclic neuropeptide initially isolated from the caudal neurosecretory system of teleost fish. The recent cloning of the UII precursor in frog and human has demonstrated that the peptide is not restricted to the fish urophysis but that it is also expressed in the central nervous system of tetrapods. Here, we describe the characterization of the cDNAs encoding prepro-UII in mouse and rat. A comparison of the primary structures of mouse and rat UII with those of other vertebrate UII reveals that the sequence of the cyclic region of the molecule (CFWKYC) has been fully conserved. In contrast, the N-terminal flanking domain of prepro-UII has markedly diverged with only 48% sequence identity between the mouse or rat and the human precursors. In situ hybridization histochemistry showed that the prepro-UII gene is predominantly expressed in motoneurons of the brainstem and spinal cord, suggesting that UII may play a role in the control of neuromuscular functions.