Studies have demonstrated a specific function of the angiotensin II (Ang II) type 1 receptor (AT(1)) in regulation of adult central cardiovascular, fluid, and pituitary hormone release and a predominant role of the renin-angiotensin system in fetal and neonatal cardiovascular homeostasis. The pattern of brain AT(1) mRNA expression during fetal and neonatal development is currently unknown. We used radiolabeled cRNA probes for in situ hybridization histochemistry to determine the ontogenic development of the two AT(1) subtypes (AT(1a) and AT(1b)) mRNA in rat brain, from 11 days of gestation (E11) to 28 days after birth (P28). No AT(1b) mRNA was detected in the developing brain, whereas AT(1a) mRNA was first detected at E19. The age at which AT(1a) mRNA is first detected varied among different brain areas and expression predominates in areas involved in fluid homeostasis, pituitary hormone release, and cardiovascular regulation, where it persists until P28. AT(1a) mRNA expression is present from E19 onward in the median preoptic nucleus, the vascular organ of the lamina terminalis, the paraventricular nucleus, the periaqueductal gray, the nucleus raphe pallidus, the motor facial nucleus, and very weakly in the nucleus of the solitary tract and the ambiguous nucleus, and at E21 in the subfornical organ, the anterior olfactory nucleus and the piriform cortex. AT(1a) mRNA expression is present after birth in many regions, including the preoptic and lateral hypothalamic areas, the area postrema and medullary reticular nuclei. In conclusion, during brain development, expression of AT(1a) mRNA, appears in late gestation at E19, predominantly in forebrain areas involved in fluid homeostasis and cardiovascular regulation. In contrast, AT(1a) mRNA expression is absent or present only in very small amounts until after birth in many medullary nuclei, known to play an important role in cardiovascular modulation. Our results suggest that, in perinatal life, AT(1a) is involved in fluid and perhaps cardiovascular homeostasis and that the role of Ang II in modulating medullary cardiovascular centers matures later in postnatal life.