Exposure of alcohol addicts to alcohol-related environmental cues may elicit alcohol-seeking behavior and lead to relapse to heavy drinking. The aim of the present study was to identify brain regions activated by alcohol (ethanol)-related stimuli in Wistar rats trained to lever press for 8% ethanol solution in operant self-administration cages. Ethanol self-administration was stabilized in a maintenance phase, which lasted for 30 days. c-Fos protein expression was used as a marker of neuronal activation.Re-exposure to ethanol self-administration environment after 30-day but not after 24-h abstinence increased the number of Fos-positive nuclei in the thalamic paraventricular nucleus, granular insular cortex and medial prefrontal cortex. In general, no differences were found in c-Fos protein expression between the rats allowed to self-administer alcohol and the subjects exposed only to alcohol-related stimuli. In contrast, no increase in c-Fos immunoreactivity was observed in rats trained to lever press for sucrose solution and exposed to sucrose-related environmental stimuli after 30-day abstinence. Taken together, these results suggest that at least some thalamo-cortical circuits become more responsive to ethanol-paired stimuli after prolonged abstinence and that ethanol- and sucrose-seeking behavior may be regulated by partially different neural mechanism(s).