Neuropeptide Y (NPY) and α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH), two neuropeptides that are synthesized in neurons of the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus, exert opposite actions on food intake and body weight. NPY is orexigenic and decreases energy expenditure whereas α-MSH reduces food consumption and stimulates catabolism. α-MSH is an endogenous ligand for the central melanocortin receptors, MC3-R and MC4-R. In order to determine whether α-MSH may act directly on NPY neurons in the arcuate nucleus, we have investigated the possible occurrence of MC3-R and MC4-R mRNA in NPY-expressing cell bodies in the rat hypothalamus. Double-labeling in situ hybridization histochemistry using <sup>35</sup>S-labeled (MC3-R or MC4-R) and digoxigenin-labeled (NPY) riboprobes revealed that 38 ± 1% of the NPY mRNA-positive perikarya expressed MC3-R mRNA while only 9 ± 2% of the NPY-producing neurons contained MC4-R mRNA. The proportions of NPY neurons that express MC3-R mRNA or MC4-R mRNA were not significatively different in the anterior and posterior aspects of the arcuate nucleus. The present study shows that a large proportion of NPY neurons in the rat hypothalamus express MC3-R mRNA while a much lower number of NPY neurons express MC4-R mRNA, suggesting that melanocortins may directly modulate the activity of the hypothalamic NPY system, mainly through activation of MC3-R. These data provide additional evidence for the complex interactions between the stimulatory (NPY) and inhibitory (α-MSH) pathways controlling feeding behavior and energy homeostasis.