Oxytocin (OT) and vasopressin (VP) are peptide hormones that are derived from genes predominantly expressed in distinct magnocellular neurons in the paraventricular (PVN) and supraoptic (SON) nuclei of the hypothalamus. Recent evidence suggests that some magnocellular neurons coexpress both peptides. Our qualitative RT-PCR experiments on single cells show that the majority of magnocellular neurons coexpress both peptide messenger RNAs (mRNAs) in varying amounts. Using a competitive RT-PCR method combined with a standard calibration curve, we quantitatively determined OT and VP mRNA in single magnocellular neurons from the normal female rat SON, with a detection sensitivity of less than 30 mRNA molecules/cell. We defined the phenotypes of the single magnocellular neurons according to their ratios of these two peptide mRNAs. Using this approach, we identified three major phenotypes: oxytocin neurons, where the average OT to VP mRNA ratio is about 256; vasopressin neurons, where the average VP to OT mRNA ratio is about 182; and one oxytocin/vasopressin coexisting neuron, where the OT/VP mRNA ratio is 2. Thus, there is some OT and VP mRNA coexpression in virtually all of the magnocellular neurons in supraoptic nuclei of hypothalamus. However, clear phenotypes are identifiable by considering quantitative as opposed to qualitative differences.