The atrial natriuretic peptide, atriopeptin, is a circulating hormone that plays an important role in the regulation of fluid and electrolyte homeostasis. Several recent studies have shown that atriopeptin-like immunoreactivity is present within the central nervous system as well as peripheral tissues. In the present report, we describe in detail the organization of atriopeptin-like immunoreactive (APir) perikarya and fibers in the central nervous system of the rat. The most prominent collection of APir perikarya was found in the hypothalamus, adjacent to the anteroventral tip of the third ventricle. Additional groups of APir perikarya were observed along the wall of the third ventricle and in the paraventricular and arcuate nuclei. Separate, smaller groups with distinctive morphology were seen in the lateral hypothalamic area, in the supra-mammillary, medial, and lateral mammillary nuclei, medial habenular nucleus, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, and the central nucleus of the amygdala. In the pons and brain-stem, APir neurons were observed in the pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental nuclei, as well as in the ventral tegmental area, Barrington's nucleus, the parabrachial nucleus, and the nucleus of the solitary tract. The densest terminal fields of APir fibers were found in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus, the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, the median eminence, and the interpeduncular nucleus. The presence of atriopeptin immunoreactivity within the central nervous system suggests that atriopeptin may function as a central neuromediator. Potential functions of this candidate neuromediator deduced from its anatomical distribution are discussed, including the possibility that atriopeptin may function as both a central neuromediator and a systemic hormone in the regulation of the cardiovascular system.