A recently cloned neurotrophic factor, termed glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), has been reported to exhibit selective neurotrophic properties on ventral mesencephalon dopaminergic neurons, which degenerate in patients with Parkinson's disease. In the present study, we used reverse transcriptase followed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and in situ hybridization to study the expression of GDNF messenger RNA (mRNA) in the adult rat and human central nervous system (CNS). GDNF transcripts were identified using PCR in all regions of the rat CNS analyzed including striatum, hippocampus, cortex, cerebellum, and spinal cord. Interestingly, the rat hippocampal formation contained two transcripts, i.e., a larger form in addition to the amplified GDNF cDNA found in all other areas analyzed. GDNF PCR products also were observed in human striatum, hippocampus, cortex, and spinal cord, but not cerebellum, and both the striatum and hippocampal formation contained two GDNF transcripts. Finally, GDNF transcripts were detected in a rat Schwann cell line previously shown to secrete a factor that exerts a neurotrophic effect on dopaminergic neurons. In situ hybridization experiments using a cRNA probe hybridized to adult rat brain sections demonstrated no positive GDNF mRNA signal. However, intense GDNF mRNA hybridization signal was found to be associated with dorsal root ganglia in Postnatal Day 1 rats. These findings provide evidence that GDNF is detectable using PCR in a number of nervous system structures and, in some areas, GDNF is expressed in more than one form.