The cellular origins of erythropoietin were investigated in the rat using a probe derived from a cloned rat erythropoietin cDNA. In anaemic-hypoxic rat liver, in situ hybridization detected erythropoietin mRNA primarily in hepatocytes and less frequently in nonparenchymal sinusoidal or perisinusoidal liver cells. An RNase protection assay was used to compare the erythropoietin mRNA contents of separated rat liver cell fractions and also suggested that hepatocytes are the major source of extrarenal erythropoietin with nonparenchymal liver cells contributing less than 1% to total hepatic erythropoietin production. In kidney, in situ hybridization localized erythropoietin mRNA in nonepithelial cells, as yet of undefined lineage, in the cortical and outer medullary interstitium. These results indicate that, in the rat, the primary sources of erythropoietin in liver and kidney are different types of cells.