The distribution of rat vasoactive intestinal peptide2 (VIP2) receptor messenger RNA in the brain and the pituitary gland was examined by in situ hybridization and by ribonuclease protection assay. labelled cells were found chiefly in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, the central nucleus of the amygdala and the thalamus (the lateral geniculate nucleus, and the paraventricular, mediodorsal and ventral nuclei of the thalamus). The distribution of the VIP2 receptor overlaps only in part with that of the VIP1 receptor, for example in the hippocampus, where VIP2 receptor messenger RNA was found in the pyramidal cells of the CA1-CA3 subfields and in the granule cells of the dentate gyrus. Small numbers of neurons containing high concentrations of VIP2 receptor messenger RNA were present in the brainstem in the principal sensory trigeminal nucleus and in the substantia gelatinosa of the spinal cord, suggesting a role for the VIP2 receptor in the processing of sensory information. The presence of the VIP2 receptor in the suprachiasmatic nucleus suggests that it is this receptor subtype which is involved in the control of circadian rhythms.