The distribution of somatostatin mRNA in the rat brain has been examined by in situ hybridization using 32P-labelled oligonucleotide probes. Numerous telencephalic and diencephalic areas contained labelled cells with the largest numbers of cells occurring in the anterior olfactory nucleus, olfactory and entorhinal cortices, hippocampus, neocortex, caudate nucleus, accumbens, septum, amygdala and periventricular nucleus. Fewer labelled cells occurred in the mesencephalon and rhombencephalon but groups were seen in the region of the central grey, lateral lemniscus, parabrachial and tegmental nuclei, medial longitudinal fasciculus and nucleus of the solitary tract. This distribution closely matches published maps of the distribution of somatostatin-immunoreactive cell bodies. The intensity of individual cell labelling has also been quantified using image analysis and compared with the intensity of somatostatin immunocytochemical cell staining. In situ hybridization cell labelling varied both within different regions and from region to region. Highest labelling was seen in the periventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus followed by telencephalic regions such as cortex, hippocampus and the medial nucleus of the amygdala. In contrast all brainstem areas had low levels of labelling with the lowest levels of the brain occurring in the dorsolateral tegmental nucleus. Somatostatin immunocytochemistry showed similar variations such that the intensity of cell immunostaining broadly paralleled the intensity of cell in situ hybridization labelling. Thus both peptide and mRNA levels were much lower in brainstem cells than in forebrain, although a close correlation between immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridization was not seen in all brain regions.