The aim of this study was to define the temporal appearance and regional distribution of angiotensinogen in the fetal and neonatal rat brain. This was done by immunocytochemical localization of angiotensinogen in brains from embryonic day 16 to postnatal day 12. Immunostaining was first observed on embryonic day 18, and persisted to postnatal day 2, in the choroid plexus and ependymal cells lining the third ventricle. This initial expression of angiotensinogen at embryonic day 18 was followed at postnatal day 20 by a rapid progression of angiotensinogen staining appearing in astrocytes in the paraventricular nucleus, medial preoptic area, ventromedial and arcuate hypothalamic nuclei; these areas showed the highest astrocyte staining intensity in the brain. This was followed sequentially by staining in areas of the thalamus, midbrain, forebrain and brainstem. In general, neuroglial staining was higher in regions proximal to the cerebral ventricles and cerebral aqueduct. Neuronal angiotensinogen was observed at day postnatal day 0 and later. The most consistent immunopositive areas were in the forebrain and thalamus; in particular, the hippocampus, anterior and posterior cingulate cortex, basal and lateral amygdala, the caudate-putamen, globus pallidus, lateral septum, medial habenular nuclei and lateral thalamic nuclei. Most of the immunopositive cells in the hypothalamus and brainstem were astrocytes, while those in the cortex were almost exclusively neurons. Staining in thalamic regions was both neuronal and neuroglial. From the intensity of staining and cell density, it was determined that a rapid increase in angiotensinogen occurs between embryonic day 20 and postnatal day 0, followed by further, smaller increases postnatally. In conclusion, this study has shown that angiotensinogen, the protein from which angiotensin II is generated, is present in the rat fetal brain. The timing of its appearance supports the establishment of a renin-angiotensin system by late gestation. Its predominance in fetal hypothalamic nuclei and in thalamic, cerebellar and cortical neurons suggests major roles in prenatal fluid and electrolyte balance, in sensorimotor development and in brain maturation.