alpha 2-Adrenergic receptors (ARs) are involved in central nervous system (CNS) control of blood pressure. It is now known that there are three human genes that encode subtypes of alpha 2-ARs, but little is known regarding the distribution of these subtypes throughout the CNS. The availability of receptor clones allows the mapping of mRNAs encoding the individual alpha 2-AR subtypes in the CNS. In this communication, we report that there are three, closely related rat alpha 2-AR genes. We have developed subtype-specific hybridization probes from each of these genes and have used these reagents to measure alpha 2-AR subtype mRNA accumulation in extracts of discrete regions of the rat CNS. We found that mRNAs encoding the alpha 2A-AR and alpha 2C-AR subtypes are distributed widely, but unevenly, throughout the rat CNS. The A subtype is prominent in the midbrain, brainstem, spinal cord, pituitary and diencephalon while the C subtype predominates in basal ganglia and cerebellum. The cortex, olfactory bulb and hippocampus contain roughly equal amounts of the alpha 2A- and alpha 2C-AR mRNAs. A third subtype's (alpha 2B-AR) mRNA is far less abundant in brain tissues, and is only found in the diencephalon.