The regional distribution of thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) was studied in the chicken brain. The hypothalamus and the brain stem contained the highest concentration of TRH. Lower amounts were present in the telencephalon, the optic lobes and the cerebellum. Within the hypothalamus, TRH was most abundant in the median eminence. Other important TRH sites were the nucleus paraventricularis magnocellularis, nucleus periventricularis hypothalami, nucleus ventromedialis hypothalami, nucleus dorsomedialis hypothalami and nucleus preopticus periventricularis. On the 14th day of embryonic development (E14), TRH was mostly found in the brain stem. Towards hatching, TRH concentrations increased gradually in both the hypothalamic area and the brain stem. TRH concentrations in the telencephalon, optic lobes and cerebellum remained low. Pituitaries from E14 to E16 chickens were characterized by a high TRH concentration, whereas hypophyseal TRH concentrations dropped towards hatching. Our results support the hypothesis that TRH exerts both endocrine and neurocrine actions in the chicken. On the other hand, high pituitary TRH concentrations were present when hypothalamic concentrations were low and vice versa. Therefore, the chicken pituitary may function as an important source of TRH during early in ovo development at least until the moment hypothalamic control develops. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.