Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which supports survival of and fiber outgrowth from sensory neurons and retinal ganglion cells has recently been cloned. It is closely related to nerve growth factor (NGF), which we had demonstrated earlier by in situ hybridization to be expressed in the brain by cholinergic target neurons. Using oligonucleotide probes we now describe aspects of the distribution of BDNF mRNA in the adult pig and rat brain. Similar to NGF, BDNF expression in vivo in the central nervous system appeared to be mostly confined to neurons. In the hippocampal formation, strongly labeled neurons were found in and around the pyramidal layer, as well as in the granular layer and the hilus of the dentate gyrus of both pig and rat. Other neurons in these areas were more weakly labeled or unlabeled. High BDNF expression was also shown in scattered neurons in cortex cerebri, in many neurons in claustrum and in certain other areas. These results demonstrate that the similarity in structure between NGF and BDNF is paralleled by a similarity in cellular expression, suggesting that BDNF, like NGF, may act via a direct neuron-to-neuron interaction. It is possible that some neurons, for example, in the hippocampal formation, express both NGF and BDNF. Finally, the localization of BDNF expression in cortical areas and in claustrum suggests that the target neurons for this factor extend beyond the sensory ganglion and retinal ganglion cells.