Galanin-like peptide (GALP), discovered in the porcine hypothalamus, is expressed predominantly in the arcuate nucleus (ARC), a feeding-controlling center. Intracerebroventricular injection of GALP has been shown to stimulate food intake in the rats. However, the mechanisms underlying the orexigenic effect of GALP are unknown. The present study aimed to determine the target neurons of GALP in the ARC. We investigated the effects of GALP on cytosolic free Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i) in the neurons isolated from the rat ARC, followed by neurochemical identification of these neurons by immunocytochemistry using antisera against growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH), neuropeptide Y (NPY) and proopiomelanocortin (POMC), the peptides localized in the ARC. GALP at 10(-10) M increased [Ca2+]i in 11% of single neurons of the ARC, while ghrelin, an orexigenic and GH-releasing peptide, at 10(-10) M increased [Ca2+]i in 35% of the ARC neurons. Some of these GALP- and/or ghrelin-responsive neurons were proved to contain GHRH. In contrast, NPY- and POMC-containing neurons did not respond to GALP. These results indicate that GALP directly targets GHRH neurons, but not NPY and POMC neurons, and that ghrelin directly targets GHRH neurons in the ARC. The former action may be involved in the orexigenic effect of GALP and the latter in the GH-releasing and/or orexigenic effects ghrelin.