Maternal low-protein malnutrition during gestation and lactation (LP) is an animal model frequently used for the investigation of long-term deleterious consequences of perinatal growth retardation. Hypothalamic neuropeptides are decisively involved in the central nervous regulation of body weight and metabolism. We investigated neuropeptide Y (NPY) in distinct hypothalamic nuclei in the offspring of LP mother rats at the end of the critical hypothalamic differentiation period (20th day of life). Weanling LP offspring were underweight (P< 0.001) and hypoinsulinaemic (P< 0.05), while leptin levels were unchanged. NPY was significantly increased in the paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus (PVN) (P< 0.01) and lateral hypothalamic area (P< 0.05) in LP offspring. In contrast, NPY was unchanged in the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus (VMN). These observations indicate a leptin-independent stimulation of the orexigenic ARC-PVN axis in undernourished LP rats at weaning. Furthermore a disturbed NPYergic regulation of the VMN is suggested, possibly contributing to alterations of the hypothalamic regulation of body weight and metabolism in LP offspring during life.