Insulin receptor substrate 1 (IRS-1) is the primary cytosolic substrate of the insulin and insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) receptors. Following tyrosine phosphorylation IRS-1 binds to and activates specific proteins containing SH2 domains. Using biochemical and immunocytochemical techniques, we have mapped the distribution of IRS-1 in the CNS of the adult rat and compared it with that of insulin and IGF-I receptors and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI-3 kinase), a signaling molecule functionally related to IRS-1. Immunoprecipitation and Western blotting experiments demonstrate the presence of substantial amounts of IRS-1, insulin receptor, and PI-3 kinase in the brain. IRS-1 immunoreactivity is widely distributed in neurons from several areas of the brain and spinal cord. The cerebral cortex, the hippocampus, many hypothalamic and thalamic nuclei, the basal ganglia, the cerebellar cortex, the brainstem nuclei, and the lamina X of the spinal cord are particularly rich of immunopositive nerve cells. In these areas most of the neurons immunoreactive for IRS-1 are also stained by either anti-insulin receptor or anti-IGF-I receptor antibodies as well as PI-3 kinase antiserum. IRS-1 immunostaining was very weak or totally absent in neurons of the olfactory bulb, the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei, the mesencephalic trigeminal nucleus, and the granule cell layer of the cerebellum, despite the fact that these areas were immunolabeled with antibodies against insulin or IGF-I receptors and/or PI-3 kinase. These results show that neurons in the adult rat CNS are endowed with some of the components of the early signaling pathway for growth factors of the insulin/IGF-I family, although IRS-1 has a distribution distinct from that of the two receptors.