We investigated the distribution of oxytocin in rat spinal cord using immunocytochemistry and radioimmunoassay (RIA). Each segment of the spinal cord from cervical to coccygeal contained oxytocin-immunoreactive fibers. The Rexed laminae I and II of the dorsal horn showed moderate to intense immunoreactivity. A dense network was found around the central canal where some fibers apposed the ependyma. The autonomic centers of the spinal cord at the thoracolumbar and sacral segments were heavily innervated. Few fibers were found around the motoneurons. In the white matter, the immunoreactivity was localized mainly in the dorsal part of the lateral funiculus, in the pars funicularis of the nucleus intermediolateralis and in a longitudinal network of the lateral funiculus below the spinal cord surface. Some fibers from this network entered the pia mater. RIA measurements revealed that the cervical spinal cord had lower oxytocin content than that found in either the thoracic, lumbar, sacral or coccygeal region. Our results show that the distribution of oxytocin-immunoreactive fibers in the spinal cord correlates with anatomic locations related to nociceptive, autonomic and motor functions. We assume that oxytocin-containing axons play a role in secreting oxytocin directly into the liquor space of the spinal cord.