Starvation induces a decrease in circulating leptin levels and activation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Leptin inhibits the HPA axis in unfed rodents or genetically leptin-deficient ob/ob mice, whereas it stimulates corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) gene expression in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN). However, the interactions between leptin, CRH and the HPA axis are poorly understood and are likely to be complex. We recently demonstrated that central leptin administration caused increases in plasma arginine-vasopressin (AVP) and AVP gene expression of the PVN in nonstressful rats. AVP stimulates the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), but it also potentiates the action of CRH on ACTH release. In this study, we investigated the effects of leptin on plasma ACTH and corticosterone levels, CRH mRNA of the PVN and proopiomelanocortin (POMC) mRNA of the pituitary in nonstrained rats. Intracerebroventricularly administered leptin caused increases in plasma ACTH and corticosterone levels in dose-dependent manners. In Northern blot analyses, the leptin injection induced significant increases in the expression of CRH mRNA in the PVN and POMC mRNA in the pituitary. The increased plasma ACTH and corticosterone levels by leptin were attenuated with intracerebroventricular pretreatment of a V<sub>1a</sub> receptor antagonist (OPC-21268) or a V<sub>1a</sub>/V<sub>1b</sub> receptor antagonist (dP[Tyr(Me)<sup>2</sup>]AVP), but not with that of a V<sub>2</sub> receptor antagonist (OPC-31260). The leptin-induced CRH mRNA expression in the PVN and POMC mRNA expression in the pituitary were also reduced by the pretreatment with OPC-21268 and dP[Tyr(Me)<sup>2</sup>]AVP. These results suggest that intracerebroventricular leptin administration activates the HPA axis by AVP receptor activation through V<sub>1a</sub> receptors in the PVN which in turn activates CRH neurons to drive ACTH and corticosterone secretion in concert with AVP in nonstrained rats.