Neurotensin (NT)-like peptides in the CNS of the lamprey Lampetra fluviatilis were studied by radioimmunoassay (C-terminal specific NT antiserum), reverse-phase HPLC and immunohistochemistry. Multiple peaks of NT-immunoreactive (-ir) material were observed upon HPLC, of which a major peak eluted in the position of bovine NT. Immunofluorescence histochemistry showed that a monoclonal antibody recognizing the N-terminal (1–11) fragment of NT, as well as two polyclonal NT antisera labelled a large number of cell bodies in the periventricular area of hypothalamus, including the postinfundibular commissural nucleus and the ventral and dorsal hypothalamic nuclei. Additional groups of NT-ir cells were observed in the preoptic nucleus, the postoptic commissural nucleus, the mesencephalic tegmentum (L.fluviatilis), and in the spinal cord (L.fluviatilis and Ichtyomyzon unicuspis). Dense NT-ir fibre plexuses were present in the caudal hypothalamus, corpus striatum, ventral mesencephalon, and in the dorsal horn and lateral margin of the spinal cord. At the ultrastructural level the lateral spinal margin showed NT-ir terminal structures, which in most cases were not associated with synaptic specializations, although occasional synaptic contacts with unlabelled elements were found. The relation between NT-ir and monoamine-containing cells was examined with immunofluorescence double-staining, using antisera to tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), and histamine respectively. In the periventricular nuclei of hypothalamus numerous TH-, 5-HT-, as well as histamine-ir cells were located in close association with NT-ir cells, but none of the aminergic markers could be detected within NT-ir neurons. The chemical properties as well as the anatomical distribution of lamprey NT-like peptides show several similarities with those present in mammals, suggesting that NT-containing neuronal systems in the CNS developed early in vertebrate phylogeny.