Opioid peptides derived from prodynorphin were localized immunocytochemically to dentate granule cells and mossy fibers of the rat hippocampus with antisera against dynorphin A(1-17) and dynorphin B. Extracts of microdissected hippocampal regions were resolved by reverse phase and molecular exclusion chromatography to identify the molecular forms of the dynorphin A immunoreactivity and to quantify regional contents. Results demonstrated that the relative concentration of dynorphin A within each dissected region of hippocampus agreed well with the distribution of dynorphin A detected by immunocytochemical methods. Immunostaining of proenkephalin-derived opioid peptides, [Leu5]enkephalin and bovine adrenal medullary peptide-22P, was concentrated in cell bodies of the entorhinal cortex, nerve fibers in the perforant pathway, and terminals in the outer molecular layer of the dentate gyrus. Light immunostaining of granule cells and mossy fibers with these antisera was also found. The relative concentration of [Leu5]enkephalin immunoreactivity in each microdissected region of the hippocampus also agreed well with the distribution of [Leu5]enkephalin immunostaining. Chromatography of hippocampal regional extracts demonstrated that the immunoreactivity measured was due to the presence of authentic [Leu5]enkephalin. The probable neurotransmitter function of both [Leu5]enkephalin and dynorphin A was shown by their calcium-dependent release after in vitro depolarization of hippocampal tissue. The reported presence of beta-endorphin in hippocampus was not verified. Comparison of the hippocampal distribution and content of prodynorphin and proenkephalin-derived opioids suggests that separate populations of neurons containing these two peptide families form distinct neurotransmitter systems of roughly equal concentration.