The present study was conducted to investigate the distribution and immunohistochemical characteristics of ascending and descending projection neurons of the rat superior olivary complex (SOC), a group of interrelated brainstem nuclei. Ascending neurons were identified by injection of cholera toxin B subunit (CTB) into the central nucleus of the inferior colliculus (IC), descending neurons were labeled by application of Fluoro-Gold (FG) into the scala tympani of the cochlea, ipsilaterally to the IC injection. In accordance with the literature, we observed neurons innervating the IC located in the lateral superior olivary nucleus (LSO) and dorsal periolivary groups (DPO) on both sides, in the superior paraolivary nucleus (SPO) predominantly ipsilateral, as well as in the ipsilateral medial superior olivary nucleus (MSO) and the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB). Cochlear projection neurons were found predominantly in the ipsilateral LSO as well as in the bilateral SPO, DPO, MSO and MNTB. In addition, a considerable population of neurons in the ipsilateral LSO and SPO were identified as being both ascending and descending. To further characterize these double-projecting neurons, brainstem sections were incubated in antisera directed against different neuroactive substances. The majority of ascending/descending cells in the LSO contained calcitonin gene-related peptide, but not substance P (SP), met-enkephalin (ENK) or tyrosine hydroxylase (TH). Some of these neurons apparently were contacted by ENK- or SP-immunoreactive fibers and terminals. In addition, we found TH-immunoreactive neurons in the lateral MNTB region. These neurons, which were labeled upon tracer injection into the cochlea (but not upon IC injection), probably belong to the C1 catecholaminergic cell group and may represent a division of the uncrossed olivocochlear bundle. The present results reveal the existence of a previously unknown subpopulation of SOC neurons that project to both the cochlea and the inferior colliculus. Their CGRP immunoreactivity and their uncrossed projection pattern provide evidence that they may belong to the cholinergic, putatively excitatory cell group.