We analyzed changes in the hypothalamic levels of vasotocin (VT) and isotocin (IT) mRNA in chum salmon during spawning migration to the Ishikari river. The fish were caught at Atsuta, a fisherman's village facing the Ishikari bay, and at Chitose, an upstream branch of the Ishikari river. The former are referred to as sea water (SW) fish, and the latter as freshwater (FW) fish. The levels of VT and IT mRNA in the forebrains were determined by quantitative Northern blot analysis using single-stranded DNA with the same mRNA sequences as the standards. Levels of VT mRNA were higher in the FW males than the FW females, although no such difference was seen in the SW fish. Changes in the levels of VT mRNA were markedly different in males and females. In the males, no significant differences were seen in the levels of VT-I and VT-II mRNA between the SW and FW fish. However, in the females, the levels of VT mRNA in the FW fish were significantly lower than those in the SW fish. Changes in the levels of IT-I and IT-II mRNA were essentially similar in the males and females. These results suggest that the control of VT gene expression is different in males and females during spawning migration, although the neuroendocrine mechanism is not known.