Orexinergic neurons originating in the perifornical, lateral hypothalamus project to numerous brain sites including neuroendocrine centers known to be important in the physiologic response to stress. Those projections suggest an action of endogenous orexin on adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) release, either by neuromodulatory effects in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN), or by neuroendocrine actions in the pituitary gland following release into the median eminence. We sought to determine if exogenously applied orexin A might act in the brain to alter ACTH release and to determine if a site of action in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus could be identified. Cerebroventricular administration of orexin A in conscious male rats resulted in a dose-related elevation in circulating ACTH levels. At 30 min post-infusion, ACTH levels were elevated 2.5-fold by the low dose of orexin A (0.3 nmol), 5.7-fold by the middle dose tested (1.0 nmol), and 7.5-fold by the highest dose tested (3.0 nmol). Pretreatment with a CRH-antagonist (i.v.) blocked the ability of i.c.v. administered orexin A to activate the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Bath application of orexin A in hypothalamic slice preparations resulted in depolarizations (8.0+/-0.6 mV), accompanied by increases in spike frequency in identified magno- and parvocellular neurons in the PVN. Our data suggest a potential role for endogenous orexin in the hypothalamic regulation of stress hormone secretion.