The occurrence and coexistence of peptides of the insulin-like growth factor (IGF)/insulin superfamily were investigated in the ovary and gastro-intestinal tract of the protochordate Ciona intestinalis. Antisera specific for mammalian IGF-I, insulin and relaxin were used in a double-immunofluorescence method on paraffin sections and with an immunogold technique on consecutive semi-thin sections. IGF-I and relaxin immunoreactions but no insulin immunoreactions occurred in the ovary and were confined to medium-sized and mature follicle cells. Two subpopulations of reacting follicular cells were present: those containing only IGF-I immunoreactivity (5%) and those containing IGF-I and relaxin immunoreactivities (95%). In the gastro-intestinal tract, IGF-I and insulin immunoreactions coexisted, whereas no relaxin immunoreactions were obtained. Gel chromatography and radioimmunoassay in Ciona ovary revealed IGF-I immunoreactivity in two peaks with apparent molecular masses of approximately 16 kDa and 3 kDa. The present results indicate that (1) the same IGF-I-related peptide probably occurs in gastro-intestinal tract and ovary, (2) three different members of the insulin/IGF family of peptides are probably present in protochordates, (3) different types of coexistence of these peptides seem to exist in protochordates, i.e. an IGF-I-related peptide and an insulin-related peptide in the digestive tract and, as shown previously, in central nervous system, and the IGF-I-related peptide and relaxin in the ovary, (4) an IGF-I-related peptide and relaxin may be involved in oocyte maturation in the protochordate ovary.