The discovery that all components of the renin-angiotensin system (RAS) are present in the central nervous system led investigators to postulate the existence of a local brain RAS. Supporting this, angiotensin immunoreactive neurons have been visualized in the brain. Two major pathways were described: a forebrain pathway which connects circumventricular organs to the median preoptic nucleus, paraventricular nucleus, and supraoptic nucleus, and a second pathway connecting the hypothalamus to the medulla oblongata. Blood-brain barrier deficient circumventricular organs are rich in angiotensin II receptors. By activating these receptors, circulating angiotensin II may act on central cardiovascular centers via angiotensinergic neurons, providing a link between peripheral and central angiotensin II systems. Among the effector peptides of the brain RAS, angiotensin II and angiotensin III have the same affinity for the two pharmacologically well-defined receptors: type 1 (AT1) and type 2 (AT2). When injected in the brain, these peptides increase blood pressure, water intake, and anterior and posterior pituitary hormone release and may modify memory and learning. The cloning of AT1 and AT2 receptor cDNAs has revealed that these receptors belong to the seven transmembrane domain receptor family. In rodents, two AT1 receptor subtypes, AT1A and AT1B, have been isolated. Using specific riboprobes for in situ hybridization histochemistry, recent studies mapped the distribution of AT1A, AT1B, and AT2 receptor mRNAs in the adult rat and found a predominant expression of AT1A and AT2 mRNA in the brain and of AT1B in the pituitary. Very limited overlap was found between the brain expression of AT1A and AT2 mRNAs. In several functional entities of the brain, such as the preoptic region, the hypothalamus, the olivocerebellary system, and the brainstem baroreflex arc, the colocalization of receptor mRNA, binding sites, and angiotensin immunoreactive nerve terminals suggests local synthesis and expression of angiotensin II receptors. In other areas, such as the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, the median eminence, or certain parts of the nucleus of the solitary tract, angiotensin II receptors are likely of extrinsic origin. The neuronal expression of AT1A and AT2 receptors was demonstrated in the subfornical organ, the hypothalamus, and the lateral septum. By using double label in situ hybridization, AT1A receptor expression was localized in corticotropin releasing hormone but not in vasopressin containing neurons in the hypothalamus. The information is discussed together with functional data concerning the role of brain angiotensins, in an attempt to provide a better understanding of the physiological and functional roles of each receptor subtype.