To understand better the relationship between hypothalamic galaninergic neurons and the pituitary gland, we studied the effects of hypophysectomy on hypothalamic galanin (GAL) content and distribution by radioimmunoassay and immunohistochemistry, and on GAL mRNA by Northern blot analysis. Three weeks after hypophysectomy, performed at 5 or 8 weeks of age, the hypothalamic concentrations of GAL and GAL mRNA were reduced by 30-50% in both male and female rats, compared to age- and sex-matched controls. Similar reverse-phase HPLC retention times of hypothalamic GAL were observed in intact and hypophysectomized rats. The reduction of hypothalamic GAL concentration following hypophysectomy was time-dependent, as peptide levels were unaffected one week after surgery. Immunohistochemistry showed regional differences in the effect of hypophysectomy on galaninergic neurons. In the hypophysiotropic hypothalamus, the scarce GAL immunoreactivity normally observed in the arcuate nuclei was no longer detectable in hypophysectomized rats, and the intense GAL immunoreactivity of the external zone of the median eminence progressively decreased and completely disappeared 3 and 6 weeks after hypophysectomy. In contrast, in the neurohypophyseal system, there was an increase of GAL labelling of the perikarya and emerging axons in the supraoptic and lateral-paraventricular nuclei, 1 and 3 weeks after hypophysectomy, that disappeared 6 weeks after hypophysectomy. An increase of GAL immunoreactivity was also observed in the internal zone of the median eminence 1 week but not 3 weeks after hypophysectomy. We conclude that hypophysectomy reduces the content of GAL and GAL mRNA in the rat hypothalamus. These changes are time-dependent and clearly detected after 3 weeks. The neurohypophyseal and hypophysiotropic galaninergic systems respond differently to hypophysectomy. In the neurohypophyseal system, the transient increase of GAL immunoreactivity could be related to axonal injury, diabetes insipidus or decreased neurosecretion. In contrast, the marked decrease of the GAL immunoreactivity found in the hypophysiotropic system, mainly in the external zone of the median eminence, accounts for the overall changes in hypothalamic peptide content and likely results from the loss of feedback up-regulation by pituitary or pituitary-dependent factors.