Expression of preprogalanin and tyrosine hydroxylase mRNA was examined in the rat dorsal vagal complex following nodose ganglionectomy and cervical vagotomy, using in situ hybridization of specific 35S-labelled oligonucleotides. Seven days after unilateral cervical vagotomy (and nodose ganglionectomy), neurons in the ipsilateral dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus and nucleus ambiguus expressed 6- to 10-fold increased levels of preprogalanin mRNA. In contrast, tyrosine hydroxylase mRNA was no longer expressed by cells of the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus after the lesion. These results demonstrate that changes in the expression of the galanin and tyrosine hydroxylase genes occur in vagal motor neurons following lesion of their axons. More generally, these results, and those from other laboratories, demonstrate that specific alterations of neuropeptide and neurotransmitter production, are part of the reactive process activated by nerve injury.