Oxytocin is synthesized by magnocellular neurons in the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei (SON and PVN) and during pregnancy progesterone prevents premature activation of oxytocin neurons. Progesterone receptors (PR) are not detectable in SON oxytocin neurons of non-pregnant rats, so we sought to determine whether they are expressed during pregnancy and parturition. In addition, we examined PR expression in brainstem and hypothalamic regions that have known direct projections to the SON. Neuronal immunoreactive PR (irPR)-labeled nuclei were counted in sections from proestrous virgin, late pregnant (day 21) and parturient rats (90 min from birth onset). IrPR nuclei were not evident in the SON at any stage but irPR expression in the medial preoptic nucleus (MPA) significantly increased in pregnancy and parturition (159% and 189% of proestrous controls, respectively). Other hypothalamic areas did not exhibit a significant change in irPR expression. In the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) in the brainstem, there was no significant change in irPR in late pregnancy, but there was a significant reduction in irPR expression at parturition (22% of proestrous controls). Very few NTS neurons immunoreactive for tyrosine hydroxylase (irTH), and thus putatively noradrenergic, contained irPR. These findings taken with evidence that brainstem irTH neurons projecting to the SON are stimulated at parturition, whereas MPA cells projecting to the SON are not, suggest that any direct actions of progesterone or progesterone withdrawal on NTS or SON neurons are not mediated through the classical PR. Upregulation of PR expression in the MPA during pregnancy and parturition may relate to the onset of maternal behavior and/or regulation of GnRH neuronal activity.