The neuropeptide galanin (GAL) has recognized physiological actions in the nervous system and other tissues, but there is no documented evidence of GAL influencing normal or pathological bone metabolism. GAL expression, however, is upregulated in central and peripheral nerves following axotomy and is known to influence neural regeneration. Thus, severance of skeletal-associated nerves during fracture could similarly increase local GAL concentrations and thereby influence fracture healing. The initial aim of this study was therefore to identify the presence of GAL in normal bone and/or fracture callus by assessing the concentration and cellular localization of GAL in intact and/or fractured rat rib, using radioimmunoassay and immunohistochemistry, respectively. Groups of Sprague-Dawley rats (13 weeks old) had their left sixth ribs surgically fractured or underwent sham surgery and then calluses and nonfractured rib samples were analyzed at 1 and 2 weeks postsurgery (n = 5-6 per group). Low (basal) concentrations of GAL were detected in control ribs, whereas at 1 and 2 weeks postfracture, callus samples contained markedly increased levels of peptide ( approximately 32- and 18-fold increase, respectively, relative to controls; P < 0.01), revealing a strong upregulation during bone healing. Plasma GAL concentrations were also increased at 2 weeks postfracture (P < 0.005). In normal (nonfractured) rib, minimal levels of GAL-like immunoreactivity (LI) were present in cortical bone, periosteum, endosteum, and surrounding skeletal muscle. In costal cartilage plates, intense GAL-LI was present in all chondrocytes of the hypertrophic zone and in a population of chondrocytes in the reserve zone. GAL-LI was not present, however, in chondrocytes in the proliferative zone of costal cartilage or skeletal muscle fibers. In fracture callus, levels of GAL-LI were moderate to intense in osteoprogenitor cells and osteoblasts, in some chondrocytes, and in cartilaginous, osseous, and periosteal matrices. Subsequent studies revealed the presence of galanin receptor-1-like immunoreactivity (GALR1-LI) in most cell types shown to contain GAL-LI, although the distribution of GALR1-LI was more extensive in reserve zone chondrocytes than that of GAL-LI; and GALR1-LI also appeared in late proliferative zone chondrocytes of costal cartilage. In summary, GAL concentrations were significantly increased in fracture callus and plasma of rats that underwent rib fracture. In addition, GAL- and GALR1-LI was also detected in specific cells and structures within costal cartilage, bone, and fracture callus. These results strongly implicate GAL in aspects of cartilage growth plate physiology and fracture repair, possibly acting in an autocrine/paracrine fashion via GALR1.