Orexin-A is synthesized in the posterolateral hypothalamus and immunoreactive fibres project to many central nervous system structures, including the paraventricular nucleus, which is rich in corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) neurones and neuropeptide Y (NPY) innervation. We investigated the central effects of orexin-A on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis by measuring plasma concentrations of corticosterone and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) in vivo. We explored the potential neuropeptide pathways involved by investigating the effects of orexin-A on CRF, NPY, arginine vasopressin (AVP) and noradrenaline release from hypothalamic explants in vitro. Intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) injection of orexin-A (3 nmol) in male rats stimulated increases in plasma concentrations of corticosterone between 10 and 40 min after injection, and of plasma ACTH at 20 and 90 min after injection. Orexin-A significantly stimulated CRF and NPY release from hypothalamic explants in vitro. Orexin-A did not stimulate CRF release in the presence of the selective NPY Y1 receptor antagonist, BIBP3226. BIBP3226 alone did not alter CRF release from hypothalamic explants. Orexin-A had no effect in vitro on the release of other neuropeptides, AVP and noradrenaline, involved in the central regulation of the HPA axis. These results suggest that orexin-A is involved in activation of the HPA axis, and that these effects could be mediated via the release of NPY.