Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and urocortin in the central nervous system affect behavior and can enhance behavioral responses to stressors. The action of CRH-related peptides is mediated through multiple receptors that differ markedly in their pharmacological profiles and anatomical distribution. Comparative pharmacology of CRH receptor agonists suggests that CRH, urocortin, sauvagine and urotensin consistently mimic, and CRH receptor antagonists consistently lessen, functional consequences of stressor exposure. Recently, important advances have been made in understanding the CRH system and its role in behavioral responses to stress by the development of specific CRH receptor antagonists, application of antisense oligonucleotides and development of transgenic mice lacking peptides and functional receptors. This review summarizes recent findings with respect to components of the CRH system and their role in stress-induced behavioral responses.