The crustacean cardioactive peptide (CCAP) gene was isolated from the tobacco hawkmoth Manduca sexta. The gene has an open reading frame of 125 amino acid residues containing a single, complete copy of CCAP. Analysis of the gene structure revealed three introns interrupting the coding region. A comparison of the M. sexta CCAP gene with the Drosophila melanogaster genome database reveals significant similarities in sequence and gene structure. The spatial and temporal expression patterns of the CCAP gene in the M. sexta central nervous system were determined in all major post-embryonic stages using in situ hybridization techniques. The CCAP gene is expressed in a total of 116 neurons in the post-embryonic M. sexta central nervous system. Nine pairs of cells are observed in the brain, 4.5 pairs in the subesophageal ganglion, three pairs in each thoracic ganglion (T1-T3), three pairs in the first abdominal ganglion (A1), five pairs each in the second to sixth abdominal ganglia (A2-A6) and 7.5 pairs in the terminal ganglion. The CCAP gene is expressed in every ganglion in each post-embryonic stage, except in the thoracic ganglia of first- and second-instar larvae. The number of cells expressing the CCAP gene varies during post-embryonic life, starting at 52 cells in the first instar and reaching a maximum of 116 shortly after pupation. One set of thoracic neurons expressing CCAP mRNA shows unusual variability in expression levels immediately prior to larval ecdysis. Using previously published CCAP immunocytochemical data, it was determined that 91 of 95 CCAP-immunopositive neurons in the M. sexta central nervous system also express the M. sexta CCAP gene, indicating that there is likely to be only a single CCAP gene in M. sexta.