We and others have recently cloned a new member of the transforming growth factor-beta superfamily, growth differentiation factor-15/ macrophage inhibitory cytokine-1 (GDF-15/MIC-1). Using in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry, we determined the distribution of GDF-15/MIC-1 mRNA and protein in the perinatal and cryolesioned adult rat brain. The choroid plexus epithelium of all ventricles represents the site of strongest and almost exclusive mRNA expression in the normal perinatal and adult brain. The newborn rat brain reveals GDF-15/MIC-1 immunoreactivity (ir) in ependymal cells lining the ventricles, in the striatal subventricular zone, and in populations of nonneural cells of the thalamic/hippocampal lamina affixa, in addition to that in the choroid plexus. Unilateral cryogenic cortical lesioning induced a significant increase of GDF-15/MIC-1 mRNA expression and ir at the lesion site and expression in presumed neurons within the dorsal thalamic area. At the lesion site, GDF-15/MIC-1-producing cells showed immuncytochemical features of neurons, macrophages, and activated microglial cells. Fluorescent microscopy revealed both intra- and extracellular GDF-15/MIC-1 ir. Up-regulation of GDF-15/MIC-1 in activated macrophages (Mstraight phi) is also supported by RT-PCR, ICC, and Western blot experiments showing pronounced induction of GDF-15/MIC-1 expression (mRNA and protein) in retinoic acid/phorbol ester-stimulated human M phi. Our data suggest that 1) GDF-15/MIC-1 is secreted into the cerebrospinal fluid and 2) in the newborn brain may penetrate through the ependymal lining and act on developing neurons and/or glial cells. As a constituent of cells in the lamina affixa, the protein might be involved in the regulation of mesenchyme-epithelial interactions. Finally, GDF-15/MIC-1 may also act within the antiinflammatory cytokine network activated in CNS lesions.