Melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) is a neuropeptide involved in background adaptation in teleost fish, and in multiple regulatory functions in mammals and fish. To study the expression of the MCH preprohormone (ppMCH) in teleosts, we first cloned a hypothalamic cDNA encoding the complete ppMCH of tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus), and a cRNA probe derived from a 270 bp ppMCH cDNA fragment was used for the expression studies. The level of ppMCH mRNA expression in tilapia hypothalamus, measured by dot blot analysis, was significantly higher in fish adapted to a white background than in black-adapted animals, which is in accordance with the reported MCH plasma and tissue concentrations in fish. Northern blot analysis not only revealed a strong ppMCH mRNA signal in the hypothalamus, but also the presence of ppMCH mRNA in the neurointermediate lobe (NIL) of the pituitary. In situ hybridization and immunocytochemistry showed that ppMCH mRNA as well as MCH immunoreactivity are located in perikarya of two hypothalamic regions, namely in the nucleus lateralis tuberis (NLT) and the nucleus recessus lateralis (NRL). Quantitative analysis by dot blot hybridization revealed about eight times more ppMCH mRNA in the NLT than in the NRL and NIL of mature tilapias. ppMCH mRNA in the NIL could be localized to cell bodies of the neurohypophysis, which were also MCH immunoreactive.