The localization of mRNA encoding preproatrial natriuretic peptide was investigated in tissue sections and cultures of rat heart and in sections of human right atrial appendage using the technique of in situ hybridization with 32P- and 35S-labeled RNA probes. Rat atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) transcripts were demonstrated in numerous atrial myocytes and, to a lesser extent, in ventricular myocytes in both tissue sections and newborn rat heart cultures. These findings are consistent with those obtained by RNA blot analysis of rat heart total RNA, indicating that a single prepro-ANP transcript of approximately 900 nucleotides was present in the ventricles as well as the atria. Using a 35S-labeled RNA probe for human ANP mRNA, ANP transcripts were also localized to the majority of myocytes in the human right atrial appendage. Only background levels of autoradiographic labeling were obtained when RNA probes identical to the coding sequence of rat or human ANP mRNA were used. A close correlation was found between the distribution of ANP immunoreactivity and prepro-ANP mRNA in these preparations. These results provide unequivocal evidence for the expression of the ANP gene in the rat ventricles, as well as the atria, because myocytes in these tissues have been established as the sites of both ANP localization and precursor biosynthesis. The combined use of cardiac cultures and in situ hybridization may be of value in future studies investigating the regulation of ANP synthesis in cardiac myocytes.