Mounting evidence exists for a role of the CRH system in energy balance, including a direct influence on human adipocytes, the regulation of adipose 11 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 activity, and cortisol formation. We characterized the expression of CRH receptors 1 and 2 and CRH-like peptides stresscopin and urocortin in human adipose tissue in comparison with other peripheral tissues, adrenal, and heart. The effect of CRH on CRH receptor and CRH-like peptide expression was analyzed in isolated human adipocytes using quantitative TaqMan PCR. CRH receptors were detectable in fat tissue at mRNA and protein levels. CRH-R2 expression in fat was comparable with its expression in the heart, the organ with the highest CRH-R2 expression known. CRH-R1:CRH-R2 ratio varied according to fat-depot type; whereas CRH-R1 expression was higher in sc fat than in visceral fat, the opposite was true for CRH-R2. Adipose tissue also expressed urocortin and stresscopin, the predominant ligands of peripheral CRH-R2. CRH down-regulated CRH-R1 and CRH-R2 mRNA expression in isolated adipocytes. These data, together with the recently published observation that CRH regulates adipocyte metabolism by down-regulating 11 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, indicate that a CRH system exists within human adipose tissue. This system could be implicated in energy homeostasis and in mediating the anorexic effects of CRH at adipose level.