Neuropeptide Y (NYP) is a 36 amino acid peptide which shares considerable sequence homology with pancreatic polypeptide and peptide YY. NPY is widely distributed within neurons of the central and peripheral nervous systems, and occurs in mammalian brain in higher concentrations than all other peptides studied to date. Radioimmunoassay studies demonstrated high concentrations of NPY immunoreactivity within many regions of the hypothalamus and within the paraventricular thalamic nucleus, nucleus accumbens, the septum and medial amygdala. These findings correspond with the distribution of NPY containing terminals. Numerous cell bodies containing NPY are located within the cerebral cortex, caudate-putamen, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and nucleus tractus solitarius. Central administration of NPY causes a marked increase in ingestive behaviors, possibly related to the release of NPY from neurons in the arcuate nucleus that innervate the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus. NPY projections from the arcuate nucleus to the medial preoptic area may be related to the central effects of NPY on luteinizing hormone release and sexual behavior. NPY immunoreactive terminals heavily innervated neurons within the amygdala and hypothalamus that are connected to the dorsal vagal complex, suggesting a role of NPY in central autonomic regulation. NPY terminals form a dense plexus around cerebral vessels and are probably responsible for NPY's potent vasoconstrictor effects in the cerebral cortex. Coronary vessels are also innervated heavily by NPY terminals, indicating a role for NPY in the pathogenesis of coronary vasospasm. NPY is present in pheochromocytomas and circulating levels of NPY may prove useful in the diagnosis of pheochromocytoma. Thus, anatomical and physiological studies suggest a varied, but important, function for NPY in mammalian nervous system.