Using in situ hybridization, we examined the distribution of the mRNA encoding for the growth-associated protein GAP-43 in the brain stem of adult rats. GAP-43 was expressed at the highest level in the nucleus raphe dorsalis (NDR), nucleus centralis superior (NCS), substantia nigra compacta (SNc), ventral tegmental area (VTA), and locus coeruleus (LC). An intermediate level of signal was detected over the periaque- ductal gray, superior colliculi, and thalamic region, and no significant signal was detected in the substantia nigra pars reticulata and red nucleus. The hybridization signals of GAP-43 mRNA and tryptophan hydroxylase mRNA completely overlapped in the NDR and NCS, and signals for GAP-43 mRNA and tyrosine hydroxylase mRNA overlapped in the SNc, VTA, and LC. The disappearance of the hybridization signal for GAP-43 mRNA after intracerebroventricular injections of the neurotoxins 5,7-dihydroxytryptamine (5,7-DHT) or 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) indicated that high levels of GAP-43 are synthesized in the serotonergic neurons of the raphe nuclei and in the catecholaminergic neurons of the SNc, VTA, and LC. In light of the role of GAP-43 in axonal outgrowth, modulation of signal transduction, and release of different neurotransmitters in the adult CNS, this phosphoprotein might be involved in the functional plasticity and synaptic transmission of monoaminergic neurons.