The melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) is a cyclic neuropeptide, first isolated from salmon pituitary glands, which regulates melanin dispersion in the skin and perhaps the activity of the pituitary-adrenal axis in teleost fish. We have recently purified and characterized rat MCH (rMCH) and report here the cloning and sequencing of specific MCH cDNA isolated from a rat hypothalamic library. The sequence of rMCH found by DNA sequencing confirms the sequence deduced from the purified peptide. rMCH is located at the C-terminus of a protein precursor of 165 amino acid residues. Comparison of the amino acid sequence of prepro-MCH and that of the Aplysia peptide-A prohormone suggests that these proteins as well as other precursors may be evolutionarily related. Besides rMCH, two putative neuropeptides, termed NGE and NEI, might be generated from the same precursor. The rMCH precursor shared sequence identities with human GH-releasing factor and mammalian CRF in the regions encoding NGE and NEI. By immunohistochemical studies we have established that the amidated C-terminus of NEI is recognized by some alpha MSH and rat CRF antisera and that the C-terminal portion of NGE is responsible for the cross-reactivity revealed with one hGRF-(1-37) antiserum. Our results explain the staining of a discrete population of dorso-lateral hypothalamic neurons by heretofore seemingly unrelated antisera and provide evidence for the production of multiple novel neuropeptides from a common precursor.