Hypothalamic slices containing the lateral hypothalamic area (LHA) were prepared from 6- to 8-day-old rats and maintained in stationary culture for up to 35 days in order to analyse how well the melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) neurons survived. As previously reported for other brain areas, this method yielded a long-term well-preserved organotypic organization. Light- and electron-microscopic investigations showed that differentiation continued and that synaptic contacts developed in vitro. After a period of elimination of damaged cells and fibres, most of the remaining neurons and glial cells retained a normal morphology throughout the culture period. MCH neurons, in particular, survived well as attested by the strong immunocytochemical and in situ hybridization signals still observed after several weeks. In a comparison with the day of explantation, competitive reverse transcription/polymerase chain reaction demonstrated the remarkable stability of the level of MCH mRNA at least until the 20th day in culture; after 30 days, the clear decrease in this level seemed to be correlated with a loss of MCH neurons, rather than with a decrease in MCH expression. After 10 days of culture, the incubation of slices in the presence of the hormone leptin (50 ng/ml) resulted in a strong decrease of MCH gene expression, suggesting that MCH neurons retained their physiological properties. Thus, the LHA slice stationary culture, especially between one and three weeks (i.e. after tissue stabilization and before extensive cell loss), appears to be a suitable method for physiological and pharmacological studies of these neurons.