In situ hybridization histochemistry has been used to detect the basal distribution of mRNA encoding the alpha subunit of Gs, Go and Gi2 proteins throughout the rat brain. Based on these data we investigated the effect of chronic morphine on the content of these G protein alpha subunits mRNA. We observed an increase in the expression of alpha s and alpha o messages of chronically morphine-treated animals, while no changes were seen in alpha i2 mRNA. Specifically a 30% increase in expression for alpha s was seen only in the paraventricular nucleus of hypothalamus and a 20% elevation for alpha o was detected in the claustrum and endopiriform nucleus. Immunoblotting analysis was used to correlate the changes in alpha s and alpha o messages with equivalent changes in protein levels. Chronic morphine significantly increased alpha s amounts in the hypothalamus (70%), and produced a minor elevation (30%) in G alpha o levels in the olfactory area. Our results indicate that in discrete brain regions altered G protein expression is part of the adaptive changes underlying opiate tolerance.