Galanin-like peptide (GALP), which was recently isolated from the porcine hypothalamus, shares sequence homology with galanin and binds with high affinity to galanin receptors. To study the distribution and regulation of GALP-expressing cells in the brain, we cloned a 120 base-pair cDNA fragment of rat GALP and produced an antisense riboprobe. In situ hybridization for GALP mRNA was then performed on tissue sections throughout the forebrain of adult ovariectomized female rats. We found GALP mRNA-containing cells in the arcuate nucleus (Arc), caudal dorsomedial nucleus, median eminence and the pituitary. Because GALP mRNA in the Arc appeared to overlap with the known distribution of leptin receptor mRNA, we tested the hypothesis that GALP expression is regulated by leptin. Using in situ hybridization, we compared the number of GALP mRNA-containing cells among groups of rats that were fed ad lib or fasted for 48 h and treated with either leptin or vehicle. Fasting reduced the number of identifiable cells containing GALP mRNA in the Arc, whereas the treatment of fasted animals with leptin produced a 4-fold increase in the number of cells expressing GALP message. The presence of GALP mRNA in the hypothalamus and pituitary and its regulation by leptin suggests that GALP may have important neuroendocrine functions, including the physiological regulation of feeding, metabolism, and reproduction.