We have analyzed expression of a gene encoding a brain-specific Na(+)-dependent inorganic phosphate cotransporter (DNPI), which was recently cloned from human brain, in rat forebrain using in situ hybridization. The expression of DNPI mRNA showed a widespread but highly heterogeneous pattern of distribution in the forebrain, where hybridization signals were observed in neurons but not in any other types of cells. Neurons expressing the mRNA were far more numerous in the diencephalon than in the telencephalon. In the thalamus, a number of neurons with high levels of signals were localized to all nuclei of the dorsal thalamus, habenular nuclei and subthalamic nucleus, but not the reticular nucleus and zona incerta. Moderate signal levels were seen in many neurons throughout the hypothalamus, particularly the ventromedial, paraventricular, supraoptic and arcuate nuclei, lateral hypothalamic area and mammillary complex. In contrast, expression of DNPI mRNA in the telencephalon was generally at a low level and occurred locally in some restricted regions within the neocortex, retrosplenial cortex, piriform cortex, olfactory regions, hippocampal formation and medial amygdaloid nucleus. The present results suggest that DNPI functions in heterogeneous neuron populations as a neuron-specific Na(+)-dependent inorganic phosphate cotransport system predominantly expressed in the diencephalon of the rat.