Body fluid homeostasis requires the release of arginine-vasopressin (AVP, an antidiuretic hormone) from the neurohypophysis. This release is controlled by specific and highly sensitive 'osmoreceptors' in the hypothalamus. Indeed, AVP-releasing neurons in the supraoptic nucleus (SON) are directly osmosensitive, and this osmosensitivity is mediated by stretch-inhibited cation channels. However, the molecular nature of these channels remains unknown. Here we show that SON neurons express an N-terminal splice variant of the transient receptor potential vanilloid type-1 (Trpv1), also known as the capsaicin receptor, but not full-length Trpv1. Unlike their wild-type counterparts, SON neurons in Trpv1 knockout (Trpv1(-/-)) mice could not generate ruthenium red-sensitive increases in membrane conductance and depolarizing potentials in response to hyperosmotic stimulation. Moreover, Trpv1(-/-) mice showed a pronounced serum hyperosmolality under basal conditions and severely compromised AVP responses to osmotic stimulation in vivo. These results suggest that the Trpv1 gene may encode a central component of the osmoreceptor.