The neuropeptides orexin-A and orexin-B are produced in neurons of the lateral hypothalamic area and have been implicated to be involved in the regulation of food/water intake and sleep-wake control. The orexins act at two different G-protein-coupled orexin receptors (OX-R1 and OX-R2) that are derived from separate genes and expressed differentially throughout the central nervous system. In the present study, we have used a polyclonal antipeptide antiserum to analyse in detail the distribution of OX-R1-immunoreactive neurons in the rat hypothalamus. In order to identify the chemical mediators of orexin action in the hypothalamus, the OX-R1-containing neurons were characterized with regard to the content of peptides shown previously to affect ingestive and drinking behaviour. Neurons containing OX-R1 immunoreactivity were widely distributed in the hypothalamus with cell bodies located in the suprachiasmatic, periventricular, paraventricular (both magno- and parvocellular division), supraoptic, arcuate, ventromedial, dorsomedial and tuberomammillary nuclei and the lateral hypothalamic area. In magnocellular neurons of the paraventricular and supraoptic nuclei, OX-R1 immunoreactivity was seen in both vasopressin- and oxytocin-containing neurons. OX-R1 immunoreactivity was demonstrated in vasopressin and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) neurons of the suprachiasmatic nucleus, in somatostatin neurons of the periventricular nucleus and in corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) neurons of the parvocellular paraventricular nucleus. In the arcuate nucleus, OX-R1 immunoreactivity was present in neuropeptide Y (NPY) and agouti-related peptide (AGRP) neurons of the ventromedial part as well as in proopiomelanocortin (POMC) and cocaine- and amphetamine-regulated transcript (CART) neurons of the ventrolateral division. In the lateral hypothalamic area, OX-R1 immunoreactivity was demonstrated in melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH)- and orexin-containing neurons. In the hypothalamic tuberomammillary nucleus, OX-R1-immunoreactivity was shown in many histamine-containing neurons. The results support the idea that orexins have important actions on hypothalamic neurons that control food intake and fluid balance, but also that orexins may regulate other neuroendocrine systems.