Vasopressin mRNA content was studied by quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in the hypothalami of rats chronically treated with ethanol (EtOH). Quantitative RT-PCR allows for the accurate measurement of peptide mRNA levels in discrete regions of the brain of individual animals. EtOH markedly reduced the level of vasopressin mRNA. Furthermore, salt loading was ineffective in inducing a significant increase in vasopressin mRNA level in EtOH-treated rats, unlike in controls. The present results suggest that EtOH not only decreases vasopressin mRNA content in the rat hypothalamus, but also impairs its capacity to respond to salt loading.