The effect of intracerebroventricular (ICV) injections of synthetic human or rat relaxin (25 or 250 ng) on the distribution of Fos detected immunohistochemically in the rat forebrain was investigated. Following ICV relaxin, many Fos-positive neurons were observed in the periphery of the subfornical organ, dorsal part of the organum vasculosum of the lamina terminalis, throughout the median preoptic nucleus, supraoptic nucleus and hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus. Such effects did not occur following ICV injection of artificial cerebrospinal fluid or the separated A and B chains of relaxin, nor following the intravenous injection of 250 ng of relaxin. Both vasopressin and oxytocin containing neurons identified immunohistochemically in the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei exhibited Fos following ICV relaxin, and many neurons in the medial parvocellular part of the paraventricular nucleus contained Fos. The results indicate that centrally administered relaxin may increase neuronal activity in regions of the hypothalamus and lamina terminalis which are associated with cardiovascular and body fluid regulation and oxytocin secretion.