Hyperactivity of brain norepinephrine (NE) systems has long been implicated in mechanisms of opiate withdrawal (OW). However, little is known about where elevated NE may act to promote OW. Here we report that the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), the densest NE target in the brain, is critical for NE actions in OW. (1) Many BNST neurons become Fos+ after OW. Pretreatment with the beta antagonist, propranolol, markedly reduces OW symptoms and the number of Fos+ cells in the BNST. (2) Numerous neurons in the nucleus tractus solitarius (A2 neurons) and the A1 cell group are triple labeled for tyrosine hydroxylase, a retrograde tracer from the BNST, and Fos after OW, revealing numerous NE neurons that project to the BNST from the medulla that are stimulated by OW. Fewer such triple-labeled neurons were found in the locus caeruleus. (3) Behavioral studies reveal that local microinjections of selective beta-adrenergic antagonists into the BNST attenuate OW symptoms. In particular, withdrawal-induced place aversion is abolished by bilateral microinjection of a cocktail of selective beta 1 (betaxolol) plus the beta 2 (ICI 181,555) antagonists (1.0 nmol each/0.5 microL per side) into the BNST. Similar results were obtained with neurochemically selective lesions of the ventral ascending NE bundle, the pathway for A1 and A2 projections to the BNST. Similar lesions of the dorsal NE bundle of projections from the locus caeruleus had no effect on either aversive or somatic withdrawal symptoms. Together, these results indicate that beta-receptor activation in the BNST is critical for aversive withdrawal symptoms, and that A1 and A2 neurons in the medulla are the source of this critical NE.