The amygdala is a critical temporal lobe structure involved in the expression of anxiety and stress responses. The basolateral nucleus (BLA) of the amygdala in particular, may play a key role in anxiety. Furthermore, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), a 41 amino acid peptide, has been strongly implicated in the regulation of stress and anxiety responses. Centrally administered CRF has been shown to increase the anxiety-like behaviors of rodents in several animal models. A recently cloned related peptide, Urocortin (Ucn), appears to have similar affinity for the CRF1 receptor, but higher affinity at the CRF2 receptor. When microinjected into the BLA, we found Ucn was substantially more potent than CRF in producing anxiogenic-like behavior as assessed in the social interaction test. Furthermore, repetitive administration of subthreshold doses of Ucn and CRF resulted in 'priming'. Once primed, these animals exhibited behavioral and cardiovascular responses to intravenous sodium lactate, a panicogenic agent in susceptible human patients. These results suggest central CRF and Ucn play a role in generating anxiety which may be similar to that seen in pathological conditions such as panic disorder.