The ontogeny of rat diencephalic melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) neurons has been analysed, using the bromodeoxyuridine method to determine the period of birth of these neurons, and using in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry to study their chemical differentiation. The spatiotemporal pattern of MCH neuron generation is complex, although it is broadly lateromedial with a peak between embryonic days (E) 12 and E13. The first expression of the MCH gene has been detected on E13 in neurons in the presumptive lateral hypothalamic area. But the adult-like pattern was observed from E18. Medial-most MCH neurons express the peptide CART (cocaine-amphetamine-regulated transcript) from E18, and the receptor neurokinin 3 (NK3) from between postnatal day (P) 0 and P5. These results are discussed and compared with data from the literature to better understand the organization of the ‘MCH-containing area’.