The induction of c-fos mRNA was assessed using Northern blots and in situ hybridization in adult rats administered hypertonic saline (HS) and isotonic saline (IS). HS induced c-fos mRNA in magnocellular paraventricular nucleus (PVNm), parvocellular paraventricular nucleus (PVNp), supraoptic nucleus (SON), and lamina terminalis (LMT). This occurred within 5 min, peaked at 30n60 min, and disappeared by 180 min. Fos protein, detected using a specific monoclonal antibody, was maximal at 1–2 hr and disappeared 4–8 hr after HS administration. This confirms observations showing that the c-fos gene response is transient even in the presence of a continuing stimulus. In contrast, Fos-like immunoreactivity (FLI), detected using two polyclonal antisera, was observed in PVNm, PVNp, SON, and LMT for 1–24 hr during continuous osmotic stimulation. Moreover, FLI was observable in these structures for 7 d in rats administered HS and allowed to drink water ad libitum beginning 24 hr later. At times greater than 8 hr, FLI presumably represents Fos-related antigens (FRA), proteins immunologically and functionally related to Fos, whose expression is much more prolonged than authentic Fos following the osmotic stimulus. In addition to induction of c-fos expression in regions specifically involved in osmotic regulation, HS injections also induced c-fos in many other forebrain regions. In order to assess the induction of c-fos mRNA due to the “stress” of the injections, rats injected with isotonic saline were compared to uninjected controls. Isotonic saline injections induced c-fos mRNA in the PVNp, anterior hypothalamus, suprachiasmatic nucleus, cingulate gyrus, neocortex, ventral lateral septal nucleus, piriform cortex, hippocampal pyramidal and dentate granule neurons, paraventricular and intralaminar thalamic nuclei, bed nuclei of stria terminalis, cortical and medial amygdaloid nuclei, and other structures. In accord with other work, we interpret this pattern of c- fos expression to result from the stress of handling and injections. Since Fos and FRA probably bind to the promoters of target genes and regulate their expression, they likely mediate biochemical changes in the cells activated by the osmotic and stressful stimuli. Whereas the Fos signal is transient, FRA may act on target genes for the duration of the stimulus or longer.