The peptide apelin originating from a larger precursor preproapelin molecule has been recently isolated and identified as the endogenous ligand of the human orphan G protein-coupled receptor, APJ (putative receptor protein related to the angiotensin receptor AT(1)). We have shown recently that apelin and apelin receptor mRNA are expressed in brain and that the centrally injected apelin fragment K17F (Lys(1)-Phe-Arg-Arg-Gln-Arg-Pro-Arg-Leu-Ser-His-Lys-Gly-Pro-Met-Pro-Phe(17)) decreased vasopressin release and altered drinking behavior. Using a specific polyclonal antiserum against K17F for immunohistochemistry, the aim of the present study was to establish the precise topographical distribution of apelin immunoreactivity in colchicine-treated adult rat brain. Immunoreactivity was essentially detected in neuronal cell bodies and fibers throughout the entire neuroaxis in different densities. Cells bodies have been visualized in the preoptic region, the hypothalamic supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei and in the highest density, in the arcuate nucleus. Apelin immunoreactive cell bodies were also seen in the pons and the medulla oblongata. Apelin nerve fibers appear more widely distributed than neuronal apelin cell bodies. The hypothalamus represented, by far, the major site of apelin-positive nerve fibers which were found in the suprachiasmatic, periventricular, dorsomedial, ventromedial nuclei and in the retrochiasmatic area, with the highest density in the internal layer of the median eminence. Fibers were also found innervating other circumventricular organs such as the vascular organ of the lamina terminalis, the subfornical and the subcommissural organs and the area postrema. Apelin was also detected in the septum and the amygdala and in high density in the paraventricular thalamic nucleus, the periaqueductal central gray matter and dorsal raphe nucleus, the parabrachial and Barrington nuclei in the pons and in the nucleus of the solitary tract, lateral reticular, prepositus hypoglossal and spinal trigeminal nuclei. The topographical distribution of apelinergic neurons in the brain suggests multiple roles for apelin especially in the central control of ingestive behaviors, pituitary hormone release and circadian rhythms.