The distributions of mRNAs encoding preprocholecystokinin and preproenkephalin A in the rat brain were examined by in situ hybridization histochemistry. Complementary RNA probes 0.5-1.0 kilobase in length were synthesized in vitro with 35S-ribonucleotides using SP6 polymerase and a transcription vector containing the SP6 promotor. Following hybridization to fixed tissue sections, signals were detected by autoradiography after relatively short exposure times. These studies demonstrate that neuropeptide mRNAs can be detected within specific cells in the brain and that the patterns of hybridization match the localization of the peptides visualized by immunohistochemistry. Minimum numbers of mRNA copies encoding the peptides were determined by quantitative autoradiography.