The efferent projections of locus coeruleus neurons which contain neuropeptide Y-, tyrosine hydroxylase- or galanin-like immunoreactivity were investigated using the indirect immunofluorescence technique combined with the retrograde transport of the fluorescent substance Fast Blue. Four groups of rats received injections of Fast Blue: (1) bilaterally into the mid-thoracic spinal cord (T6-T7); (2) unilaterally into the low cervical spinal cord (C4-C5); (3) unilaterally into the paraventricular, periventricular and dorsomedial hypothalamic nuclei; and (4) unilaterally into five sites in the cerebral cortex (frontal, cingulate and striate cortex). Efferent projections to the spinal cord, hypothalamus and cerebral cortex from neuropeptide Y-, tyrosine hydroxylase- and galanin-containing locus coeruleus cells were observed. A higher percentage of the peptidergic locus coeruleus neurons projected to the hypothalamus than to the spinal cord or cerebral cortex. The distribution and morphology of the neuropeptide Y- and galanin-containing neurons in the locus coeruleus were also investigated. Neuropeptide Y-like immunoreactivity and galanin-like immunoreactivity were found in small, medium and large multipolar neurons, as well as in fusiform locus coeruleus cells. The neuropeptide Y- and galanin-immunoreactive neurons were found throughout the locus coeruleus. In the caudal locus coeruleus, they were primarily located in the dorsal portion. Neuropeptide Y-like immunoreactivity and galanin-like immunoreactivity were only seen in a few tyrosine hydroxylase-positive neurons of the subcoeruleus group. The data show that the peptide-containing locus coeruleus neurons have efferent projections to the spinal cord, hypothalamus and cerebral cortex. The locus coeruleus may be divided into functional subdivisions dependent on the region of the locus coeruleus, the neurotransmitter/neuropeptide(s) contained within the neurons and their efferent projections.