Increasing awareness that the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) plays an important role in controlling the output of cortically projecting cells in nuclei of the dorsal thalamus has focused attention on the question of whether there exist ascending projections to the TRN from the mesencephalic or other parts of the brainstem reticular formation (BRF). We have examined this and the related question of whether the neurons of TRN project to the BRF, by anterograde and retrograde tracing experiments with horseradish peroxidase (HRP) and HRP conjugated to wheat germ agglutinin. Injections of tracer were placed stereotaxically in the BRF at various depths and rostrocaudal and mediolateral coordinates, and the TRN and adjacent nuclei were examined in serial coronal sections, using tetramethylbenzidine as the principal chromogen. Retrogradely labelled cell bodies were consistently seen in hypothalamus and zona incerta but never in TRN, suggesting that, in the rat, TRN neurons do not project caudal to the thalamus. After 54 out of 60 injections, no terminal label was detected in any part of the TRN although such label was present in other parts of the thalamus, including the intralaminar nuclei, in the same sections. We therefore conclude that direct projections from the BRF to the TRN must be extremely sparse, and that those effects of BRF stimulation upon thalamocortical transmission that are mediated by the TRN (rather than by direct projections to dorsal thalamic nuclei) probably depend chiefly on indirect polysynaptic pathways.