Overt circadian rhythms are permanently disrupted following lesions of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in hamsters. It has previously been demonstrated that whole tissue grafts which include the fetal SCN restore circadian locomotor rhythms to hamsters previously made arrhythmic by SCN lesions. In the present study, we ask whether the intrinsic peptidergic organization of the SCN is a prerequisite for functional recovery of circadian rhythms of locomotor activity. To this end, dispersed cell suspensions of [3H]thymidine-labelled fetal anterior hypothalamic tissue which contains the SCN, were injected stereotaxically into the brain of adult hamsters. Dispersed cell suspensions restored free-running locomotor rhythms, but not entrainment or gonadal regression. The period of the restored free-running rhythms following injections of SCN cell suspensions was shorter than 24 h, in contrast to intact hamsters and SCN-lesioned hamsters whose rhythms are restored by whole tissue grafts. In animals with restored rhythms, a majority of [3H]thymidine-labelled cells were located within nuclei of the midline thalamus and zona incerta. In a few individuals, donor cells were also deposited along the injection tract as far ventrally as the medial hypothalamus. Restoration of free-running locomotor rhythmicity was correlated with the presence of small numbers of isolated VIP cells along with small plexuses of VIP fibers. In animals which did not recover locomotor rhythmicity, grafts were identical in location and size to those in recovered hamsters, but did not contain peptidergic cells characteristic of the SCN. The results suggest that structural integrity of the fetal SCN is not necessary for restoration of rhythmicity after grafting.