The cytokine interleukin-1 (IL-1) has a number of biologic activities, including pronounced effects on the nervous and neuroendocrine systems. In this study, in situ histochemical techniques were used to investigate the distribution of cells expressing type I IL-1 receptor mRNA in the CNS, pituitary, and adrenal gland of the mouse. Hybridization of 35S-labeled antisense cRNA probes derived from a murine T-cell IL-1 receptor cDNA revealed a distinct regional distribution of the type I IL-1 receptor, both in brain and in the pituitary gland. In the brain, an intense signal was observed over the granule cell layer of the dentate gyrus, over the entire midline raphe system, over the choroid plexus, and over endothelial cells of postcapillary venules throughout the neuraxis. A weak to moderate signal was observed over the pyramidal cell layer of the hilus and CA3 region of the hippocampus, over the anterodorsal thalamic nucleus, over Purkinje cells of the cerebellar cortex, and in scattered clusters over the external-most layer of the median eminence. In the pituitary gland, a dense and homogeneously distributed signal was observed over the entire anterior lobe. No autoradiographic signal above background was observed over the posterior and intermediate lobes of the pituitary, or over the adrenal gland. This study therefore provides evidence for discrete receptor substrates subserving the central effects of IL-1, thus supporting the notion that IL-1 acts as a neurotransmitter/neuromodulator in brain. It also supports studies suggesting that IL-1-mediated activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal axis occurs primarily at the level of the brain and/or pituitary gland.