The localisation of the gene transcripts of a recently discovered peptidase, neprilysin 2 (NEP2), was established by in situ hybridisation in rat tissues during development and adulthood. It was compared with those of neprilysin (NEP), a closely related enzyme in terms of sequence homology or substrate specificity, and of endothelin-converting enzyme 1 (ECE-1) which, like the other two, belongs to the M-13 sub-family of zinc-dependent metallopeptidases. The ontogeny of the three enzymes differed markedly, the expression of NEP2 being restricted to developing and differentiating fields of the CNS, whereas NEP and ECE-1 genes were broadly expressed early on in the CNS and periphery. In contrast to the wide expression of NEP and ECE-1 in peripheral adult tissues and in CNS, NEP2 was almost exclusively expressed in selected neuronal populations of the brain and spinal cord. The only exceptions were the intermediate and anterior lobes of the pituitary as well as the choroid plexuses, where NEP2 was also strongly expressed. These localisations as well as those in the hypothalamic nuclei, together with the previously established pattern of cleaved peptides, suggest the involvement of NEP2 in the metabolism of neurohormones of the hypothalamo-pituitary axis.Complementary distributions of NEP and NEP2 mRNAs were observed in a large number of brain areas with, for instance the former being highly expressed in the striatum in which NEP2 transcripts were almost undetectable. In contrast, NEP2 was highly expressed in numerous thalamic, hypothalamic and brainstem nuclei from which NEP was absent. Since both peptidases are able to cleave the same neuropeptides, this pattern may suggest a complementary role in their peptide inactivation functions in the CNS. Finally, ECE-1 mRNAs were generally observed in neuronal populations known to express the pre-proendothelin-1 gene, confirming the function of the metallopeptidase in endothelin-1 generation.