Neuropeptide Y displays diverse modes of action in the CNS including the modulation of cortical/limbic function. Some of these physiological actions have been at least partially attributed to actions of neuropeptide Y on the Y5 receptor subtype. We utilized an antibody raised against the Y5 receptor to characterize the distribution of this receptor subtype in the rat cortical/limbic system and brainstem. Y5-like immunoreactivity was located primarily in neuronal cell bodies and proximal dendritic processes throughout the brain. In the cortex, Y5 immunoreactivity was limited to a subpopulation of small gamma-aminobutyric-acid interneurons (approximately 15 microm diameter) scattered throughout all cortical levels. Double label immunofluorescence was also used to demonstrate that all of the Y5 immunoreactive neurons in the cortex displayed intense corticotropin releasing hormone immunoreactivity. The most intense Y5 immunoreactive staining in the hippocampus was located in the pyramidal cell layer of the small CA2 subregion and the fasciola cinerea, with lower levels of staining in the hilar region of the dentate gyrus and CA3 subregion of the pyramidal cell layer. Nearly all of the Y5 immunoreactive neurons in the hilar region of the hippocampus displayed gamma-aminobutyric-acid immunoreactivity. In the brainstem, Y5 immunoreactivity was most intense in the Edinger-Westphal nucleus, locus coeruleus and the mesencephalic trigeminal nucleus. The present study provides neuroanatomical evidence for the possible sites of action of the neuropeptide Y/Y5 receptor system in the control of cortical/limbic function. The presence of Y5 immunoreactivity on cell bodies and proximal dendritic processes in specific regions of the hippocampus suggests that this receptor functions to modulate postsynaptic activity. These data also suggest that the neuropeptide Y/Y5 system may play a role in the modulation of a specific population of GABAergic neurons in the cortex, namely those that contain corticotropin-releasing hormone. The location of the Y5 receptor immunoreactivity fits with the known physiological actions of neuropeptide Y and this receptor.