To investigate the role of collagens in the formation and rupture of cerebral aneurysms, we examined the distribution and synthesis of vascular collagens in the wall of normal human cerebral main trunks and of cerebral aneurysms using immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization techniques. Fifteen cerebral aneurysmal walls were resected at operation; control cerebral main trunks were obtained from seven autopsy cases. Semiserial sections from the specimens were subjected to immunofluorescence and immunohistochemical staining with antibodies to collagen types I, III, IV, V, VI, desmin and alpha-smooth muscle actin. In addition, type III collagen mRNA was examined by in situ hybridization. Immunohistochemical study showed that all collagen types were grossly preserved in the aneurysmal wall, although the distribution patterns were different for each collagen. The distribution of major fibrillar collagen types I and III was more diffuse and homogeneous in the luminal layer of the aneurysmal wall than the media of the control artery, although the intensity of immunohistochemical staining was weaker in the abluminal layer of the aneurysmal wall than the adventitia of the control artery. Collagen types IV and V were distributed more sparsely in the luminal layer of the aneurysmal wall than the media of the control artery. Collagen type VI was noted in the luminal as well as the abluminal layer of the aneurysmal wall, whereas it was located exclusively in the adventitia of the control artery. In situ hybridization showed that the signal for collagen type III mRNA on fibroblastic and smooth muscle cells was higher in the aneurysmal walls than the control arteries, suggesting up-regulation of type III collagen transcription in the cerebral aneurysmal wall. The study of the distribution and synthetic regulation of various types of collagen in the aneurysmal wall may be essential for understanding the formation of the aneurysmal wall and its protection against enlargement or rupture.