Voltage-dependent K+ channels play a pivotal role in controlling cellular excitability within the nervous system. The aim of the present study was to investigate the expression in the adult rat brain of the three ether-a-gogo-related gene (ERG) family members ERG1 ERG2, and ERG3, encoding for K+ channel subunits. To this aim, the distribution of ERG transcripts was studied by means of reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RTPCR) and nonradioactive in situ hybridization histochemistry (NR-ISH). Furthermore, ERG1 subunit distribution was studied by immunohistochemical analysis. RT-PCR analysis revealed ERG1, ERG2, and ERG3 expression in the olfactory bulb, cerebral cortex, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and cerebellum. NR-ISH experiments detected transcripts encoded by all three ERG genes in the cerebral cortex and in all CA subfields and in the granular cell layer of the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus; strong ERG1 signals were also detected in scattered large elements throughout the oriens, pyramidal, and radiatum layers, and in the hilus of the dentate gyrus. In the thalamus, positively labeled neurons were detected in the reticular nucleus with ERG1 and ERGS and in the anterodorsal nucleus with ERG2 riboprobes. Transcripts for ERG1 and, to a lesser degree, also for ERG3, were detected in the basal ganglia and in several brainstem nuclei. All three ERG genes appeared to be expressed in cerebellar Purkinje cells. Finally, ERG1 expression was also revealed in non-neuronal elements such as ependymal and subependymal cells along the ventricular walls and hippocampal astrocytes. These results suggest that the K+ channel isoforms of the ERG family appear to be expressed in different central nervous system regions where they might differentially control the firing of neurons engaged in several networks. (C) 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.