Nerve growth factor (NGF) supports the survival and biosynthetic activities of basal forebrain cholinergic neurons and is expressed by neurons within lateral aspects of this system including the horizontal limb of the diagonal bands and magnocellular preoptic areas. In the present study, colormetric and isotopic in situ hybridization techniques were combined to identify the neurotransmitter phenotype of the NGF-producing cells in these two areas. Adult rat forebrain tissue was processed for the colocalization of mRNA for NGF with mRNA for either choline acetyltransferase, a cholinergic cell marker, or glutamic acid decarboxylase, a GABAergic cell marker. In both regions, many neurons were single-labeled for choline acetyltransferase mRNA, but cells containing both choline acetyltransferase and NGF mRNA were not detected. In these fields, virtually all NGF mRNA-positive neurons contained glutamic acid decarboxylase mRNA. The double-labeled cells comprised a subpopulation of GABAergic neurons; numerous cells labeled with glutamic acid decarboxylase cRNA alone were codistributed with the double-labeled neurons. These data demonstrate that in basal forebrain GABAergic neurons are the principal source of locally produced NGF.