Increased hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) activity in diabetes is likely important in the development of some pathologies associated with the disorder. We hypothesized that central regulation of HPA activity differs among normal, streptozotocin (STZ)-diabetic, and insulin-treated diabetic rats. Blood glucose, ACTH, and corticosterone were elevated, 8 d after inducing diabetes. Insulin treatment normalized these parameters. Plasma norepinephrine was similar in all groups, but epinephrine was lower in STZ-diabetic and higher in insulin-treated rats vs. normals. Increased ACTH with diabetes corresponded with increased hypothalamic CRH mRNA, but no change in pituitary POMC mRNA. With insulin-treatment, CRH mRNA remained elevated, and POMC mRNA was unaltered. Hippocampal MR mRNA expression was dramatically increased with diabetes and, moreover, was not normalized by insulin. No differences in GR mRNA were detected between normal and STZ-diabetic rats. However, insulin treatment increased GR mRNA levels in the paraventricular nucleus and pituitary. We postulate that, in STZ-diabetes: 1) increased HPA activity is caused by increased central drive at and/or above the level of the paraventricular nucleus and is associated with decreased epinephrine; and 2) normalized pituitary-adrenal activity with insulin may be caused by the compensatory increase in GR mRNA allowing glucocorticoid-mediated suppression of ACTH secretion despite the residual increase in central HPA activity. Thus, insulin apparently restored HPA activity at and below the pituitary but, surprisingly, not above it.