In situ hybridisation histochemistry and immunohistochemistry was used to study the response of the noradrenergic A6 and A2 cell groups in the rat following oral administration of 2% saline for 12 days. Messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) encoding tyrosine hydroxylase and neuropeptide Y increased by 85 and 65%, respectively (p < 0.05) in A6, while levels in A2 were unaltered after saline ingestion. The observed changes in mRNA were accompanied by increased expression of neuropeptide Y and tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactivities in A6 neurons, whereas A2 neurons were unaffected. In contrast, mRNA encoding galanin, which is also colocalised with noradrenaline in A6 cells, was unaltered by osmotic stimulation. Our results suggest that noradrenaline and neuropeptide Y transmitter systems in the A6 group are activated whereas the galanin transmitter system remains unaffected during saline ingestion.