Techniques of in situ hybridization histochemistry, Northern blot hybridization, and immunocytochemistry were used to investigate the biosynthesis of glucagon-like immunoreactants (GLIs) in rat brain. Cells in the nucleus tractus solitarius of the medulla oblongata of adult rat brain hybridized to a synthetic oligonucleotide probe (GLP-I oligomer) corresponding to nucleotide sequences in pancreatic proglucagon mRNA encoding glucagon-like peptide I (GLP-I), and stained with antisera specific for two antigenic determinants of pancreatic proglucagon, glucagon, and GLP-I. These data suggest that there is de novo synthesis of proglucagon in cells of the nucleus tractus solitarius via expression of a proglucagon mRNA similar to that produced in pancreas. Previous studies have shown that cells in hypothalamus stain with GLP-I antisera, but not with glucagon antisera. However, cells in the hypothalamus did not hybridize with the GLP-I oligomer and may therefore produce a GLP-I immunoreactant that is encoded by a mRNA different from the pancreatic proglucagon-mRNA-encoding glucagon and GLP-I. Northern blot hybridizations with a cDNA probe encoding the entire pancreatic proglucagon sequence did not detect proglucagon/GLP-I mRNAs in polyadenylated RNAs (Poly A RNA) from adult rat brainstem and hypothalamus, probably because of their low abundance. Poly A RNAs from fetal rat brain, however, contained two mRNAs that hybridized to the proglucagon cDNA probe. One mRNA of 1,300 bases is the same size as pancreatic proglucagon mRNA. The second mRNA of 1,500 bases may encode the GLP-I immunoreactant detected in the hypothalamus of adult rat brain. The presence of neurons with glucagon and glucagon-like peptides in the nucleus tractus solitarius suggests a role of these peptides in gustatory and/or cardiopulmonary control.