Vasopressin and oxytocin release from the neural lobe, and the vasopressin and oxytocin mRNA contents of the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei are increased by hypertonicity of the extracellular fluid. The factors regulating these parameters can be conveniently studied in perifused explants of the hypothalamo-neurohypophysial system that include the supraoptic nucleus (but not the paraventricular nucleus) with its axonal projections to the neural lobe. Vasopressin and oxytocin release and the mRNA content of these explants respond appropriately to increases in the osmolality of the perifusate. This requires synaptic input from the region of the organum vasculosum of the lamina terminalis. Glutamate is a likely candidate for transmitting osmotic information from the organum vasculosum of the lamina terminalis to the magnocellular neurones, because agonists for excitatory amino acid receptors stimulate vasopressin and oxytocin release, and because increased vasopressin release and mRNA content induced in hypothalamo-neurohypophysial explants by a ramp increase in osmolality are blocked by antagonists of both NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) and non-NMDA glutamate receptors. Osmotically stimulated vasopressin release is also blocked by testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, oestradiol and corticosterone. Both oestrogen and dihydrotestosterone block NMDA stimulation of vasopressin release, and in preliminary studies oestradiol blocked AMPA stimulation of vasopressin release. Thus, steroid inhibition of osmotically stimulated vasopressin secretion may reflect inhibition of mechanisms mediated by excitatory amino acids. Recent studies have demonstrated numerous mechanisms by which steroid hormones may impact upon neuronal function. Therefore, additional work is warranted to understand these effects of the steroid hormones on vasopressin and oxytocin secretion and to elucidate the potential contribution of these mechanisms to regulation of hormone release in vivo.