The integration of 'long-term' adiposity signaling with the 'short-term' meal-related signal cholecystokinin (CCK) is proposed to involve descending hypothalamic projections to areas of the caudal brainstem (CBS) that regulate the amount of food consumed during a single meal. One such projection extends from cell bodies in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) to the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS), where cells that respond to peripheral CCK are concentrated. Candidate neuronal cell types that may comprise this PVN-NTS projection includes those expressing corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) or oxytocin. We therefore sought to determine whether oxytocin or CRH axons are preferentially located in close anatomical proximity to neurons of the NTS that are activated by peripheral administration of CCK, as determined by immunocytochemical staining for Fos protein. Rats received injections of either an anorexic dose of CCK (8 nmol/kg, i.p.) or vehicle and were perfused 2 h later with 4% paraformaldehyde. Immunocytochemistry was performed on cryostat sections (14 microm) of caudal brainstem, using a polyclonal antibody to Fos protein and either a monoclonal antibody to oxytocin or a polyclonal antibody to CRH. As expected, CCK administration significantly increased the numbers of Fos-positive neurons by 489% (p<0.01) and 400% (p<0.01), respectively, in the medial and gelatinosus subdivisions of the NTS. These same regions received dense oxytocin axon innervation, whereas CRH immunoreactivity was not as prevalent in these areas. In areas outside the NTS, such as the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (DMV), Fos activation was absent despite a dense oxytocin and CRH innervation. To investigate whether CCK-induced reductions of food intake require intact oxytocin signaling, we performed a separate study in which CCK injection was preceded by injection into the fourth ventricle of an oxytocin receptor antagonist [d(CH(2))(5), Tyr (Me)(2), Orn(8)]-vasotocin (OVT). This study showed CCK was 23% and 22% less effective at inhibiting food intake at 30 min (p<0.05) and 1 h (p<0.05) food intake, respectively, in the presence of OVT. Taken together, the data indicate that oxytocin axons within the descending pathway from the PVN to the NTS are anatomically positioned to interact with NTS neurons that respond to vagally mediated peripheral CCK signals such as those that occur following ingestion of a meal. These findings support the hypothesis that oxytocin exerts a tonic stimulatory effect on the response of key neurons within the NTS to CCK and further reduce meal size.