It has been recently recognized that a distinct signaling pathway in the hypothalamus is involved in the stimulation of feeding in mammals. Neuropeptide Y (NPY), a member of the pancreatic polypeptide family, is the most potent orexigenic signal, and its secretion in discrete hypothalamic sites increases in response to insulinopenia produced by food deprivation or experimental diabetes. To establish the site of interaction between the hypothalamus and the pancreas, we examined the effects of insulin on NPY release in vivo and in vitro from hypothalamic sites known to be involved in feeding behavior. In the first study we evaluated the effects of peripheral insulin injections (1 U/kg.day, sc) on NPY levels in seven hypothalamic nuclei in food-deprived (FD) and ad libitum-fed rats. Whereas food deprivation for 3 days increased NPY levels in the medial preoptic area, paraventricular nucleus (PVN), and arcuate nucleus, insulin injections, which did not alter blood glucose levels, returned NPY levels to the control range selectively in the PVN. NPY levels in the hypothalamic nuclei remained unchanged after insulin injections in ad libitum-fed rats. The in vivo NPY release in the PVN of FD rats, evaluated by the push-pull cannula technique, also decreased in response to peripheral insulin injections. Finally, the effects of insulin, insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), and IGF-II on NPY release in vitro from the microdissected PVN and two central neighboring sites, the ventromedial nucleus and the median eminence-arcuate nucleus, of FD rats were evaluated. Both insulin (0.67 or 6.7 nM) and IGF-II (0.7 or 7.0 nM) decreased the release of NPY in a dose-dependent manner only from the PVN. On the other hand, IGF-I (0.07 or 7.0 nM) failed to alter the basal PVN NPY efflux. As the PVN is richly innervated by NPY-containing nerve terminals, the results of these in vivo and in vitro studies suggest that the site of insulin action on the hypothalamic NPY network may reside at the level of PVN nerve terminals or at the interneurons in contact with NPY nerve terminals. Although insulin may have a direct effect in reducing NPY release from the PVN, the effectiveness of IGF-II in decreasing NPY release from the PVN raises the possibility that insulin's action may also be mediated via hypothalamic IGF-II neuronal pathways.