Galanin (GAL), a 29 amino acid peptide originally isolated from the porcine upper small intestine, is widely distributed in the rat central nervous system, including the area postrema (AP) and nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS). Although vagal sensory neurons terminate in the AP/NTS, it is not known whether these neurons contain GAL in the rat. Therefore, we examined the presence and distribution of GAL in the rat nodose ganglia which contain the cell bodies of vagal sensory neurons. We used avidin-biotin-peroxidase immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization histochemistry with a 35S-labeled oligonucleotide probe. Results with both techniques revealed the presence of GAL-containing cell bodies and fibers in the nodose ganglion. GAL-like immunoreactive cell bodies, mostly between 25 and 40 microns in diameter, were unevenly scattered throughout the nodose ganglia. The distribution and cell diameter range of GAL mRNA-labeled neurons appeared similar to those of GAL-like immunoreactive cells. These findings suggest a role for GAL in the transmission of visceral sensory information by the vagus nerve in rats.