We have investigated the central effects of substance P (SP) on plasma concentrations of immunoreactive ACTH and on immunoreactive and bioactive arginine vasopressin (AVP) in the rat. The injection of SP (20 nmol) into the lateral ventricle intracerebroventricular, (i.c.v.) of ethanol-anaesthetised rats produced a prolonged antidiuresis lasting at least 30 min, associated with an increase in plasma AVP (from 7.8 ± 0.6 to 12.5 ± 1.9 fmol/ml, mean ± SEM, n = 6). Concentrations of plasma ACTH were significantly decreased 30 min following SP (from 320 ± 70 to 135 ± 15 fmol/ml, n= 12). In rats anaesthetised with urethane, a significant decrease in plasma ACTH was observed 15 and 30 min following i.c.v. injection of SP (20 nmol); a downward trend was also observed in ACTH following a 40 nmol dose, but this was not significant. No effect of SP was observed on either basal or CRF-41 -stimulated ACTH release from isolated rat anterior pituitary cells in vitro. These results demonstrate for the first time that SP exerts opposite effects upon the release of ACTH and AVP in the same animal, and suggest that these actions occur at the level of the hypothalamus.