The bombesin-like peptides are a family of structurally related amidated peptide ligands that are known to have a variety of potent pharmacological actions on various cells, including neurons in the rat brain. Two mammalian representatives of the bombesin family of peptides have been identified, gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) and neuromedin B (NMB). Previously, we cloned the rat preproGRP gene and determined the locations of neurons expressing this gene using in situ hybridization. In this study, we describe the structure and sequence of the rat preproNMB gene, and the first detailed cellular localization of preproNMB mRNA in rat brain using in situ hybridization. Nucleotide sequence analysis of cDNA and genomic clones reveals a 117 amino acid precursor whose overall structure is similar to that described for human preproNMB. Sequence similarity between the rat NMB and GRP genes is observed only over a limited 10 amino acid sequence encoding the carboxy termini of the GRP and NMB peptides, the region shown to be necessary and sufficient for high-affinity receptor binding. In situ hybridization studies performed with cRNA probes specific for NMB or GRP mRNA show that the distribution of cells expressing either mRNA in brain is very distinct. NMB mRNA is found most prominently in the olfactory bulb, dentate gyrus, and dorsal root ganglion. In contrast, the highest levels of GRP mRNA are observed in the forebrain (isocortex and hippocampal formation). This heterogeneity of mRNA distribution for these peptides suggests that these 2 structurally related peptides may have very distinct functions as neuropeptides in the rat nervous system.