BACKGROUND: Peptidergic neurons containing the melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) and the hypocretins (or orexins) are intermingled in the zona incerta, perifornical nucleus and lateral hypothalamic area. Both types of neurons have been implicated in the integrated regulation of energy homeostasis and body weight. Hypocretin neurons have also been involved in sleep-wake regulation and narcolepsy. We therefore sought to determine whether hypocretin and MCH neurons express Fos in association with enhanced paradoxical sleep (PS or REM sleep) during the rebound following PS deprivation. Next, we compared the effect of MCH and NaCl intracerebroventricular (ICV) administrations on sleep stage quantities to further determine whether MCH neurons play an active role in PS regulation. RESULTS: Here we show that the MCH but not the hypocretin neurons are strongly active during PS, evidenced through combined hypocretin, MCH, and Fos immunostainings in three groups of rats (PS Control, PS Deprived and PS Recovery rats). Further, we show that ICV administration of MCH induces a dose-dependent increase in PS (up to 200%) and slow wave sleep (up to 70%) quantities. CONCLUSION: These results indicate that MCH is a powerful hypnogenic factor. MCH neurons might play a key role in the state of PS via their widespread projections in the central nervous system.