The responses of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis during chronic stress are characterized by normal or slightly elevated plasma ACTH, increased hypothalamic corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and vasopressin secretion, decreased pituitary CRH receptors and hypersensitivty of the ACTH and glucocorticoid responses to a novel stress. To determine the role of CRH and vasopressin in the pituitary hyperresponsiveness to a superimposed stress, pituitary CRH receptors and plasma ACTH responses were measured in rats receiving minipump infusions of CRH or a combination of CRH and vasopressin (VP), 50 ng/min of each for 50 h. Rats were killed by decapitation with or without exposure to ether vapor for 5 min or immobilization for 15 or 30 min, and blood was collected for ACTH and corticosterone determinations. The pituitary CRH receptor concentration measured by binding <sup>125</sup>I-Tyr-oCRH, was reduced by 45 and 80% in CRH- and CRH-plus-VP-infused rats, respectively, with no changes in receptor affinity. Acute stress by ether exposure or immobilization had no effect on pituitary CRH receptors. Adrenal weight was significantly increased, and thymus weight decreased in CRH-infused animals, indicating activation of the pituitary adrenal axis. However, in contrast to the responses following chronic stress, the increases in plasma ACTH in response to an injection of 10 µg/kg CRH or acute stress were significantly lower in CRH- and CRH-plus-VP-infused rats. Furthermore the content and release of ACTH from quartered pituitaries were also decreased in chronically treated rats. The data indicate that sustained pituitary stimulation by CRH either alone or in combination with VP does not account for the enhanced ACTH responses to a novel stimulus observed following chronic stress.