The amygdala is involved in behavioral, autonomic, and neuroendocrine responses to stressful stimuli. The goal of the current study was to determine the effect of directly elevating glucocorticoids in the amygdala on hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) responses to the elevated plus maze, a behavioral stressor known to activate the amygdala. Micropellets (30 microg) of crystalline corticosterone or cholesterol (control) were implanted bilaterally at the dorsal margin of the CeA in male Wistar rats; vascular catheters were also placed at this time. Five days post-surgery, blood samples were drawn at 07:00 and 19:00 h to assess diurnal rhythm of plasma corticosterone. At 7 days post-implantation, rats were subjected to behavioral stress using an elevated plus maze and blood was collected 15 min prior to stress, and at 15, 45, and 90 min after the initiation of the stressor. Corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) and arginine vasopressin (AVP) mRNA levels were analyzed by in situ hybridization in the medial parvocellular division of the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (mpPVN) in corticosterone- and cholesterol-implanted rats either not exposed to the elevated plus maze (control) or 4 h post-behavioral stress. Localization of corticosterone to the amygdala had no effect on diurnal rhythm of corticosterone secretion. Behavioral stress significantly increased peak plasma corticosterone levels in both groups to a similar level. However, in the corticosterone implanted rats, plasma corticosterone concentrations at 45 and 90 min post-stress were significantly greater compared to control rats indicating a prolonged corticosterone response to behavioral stress. In non-stressed rats, corticosterone delivery to the amygdala elevated basal CRF mRNA in the mpPVN to levels similar to those observed post-stress in control animals; no further increase was observed in CRF mRNA following stress. Behavioral stress resulted in a significant elevation in CRF mRNA in cholesterol controls. Basal AVP mRNA levels were unaffected by corticosterone implants. AVP mRNA did not increase in cholesterol implanted rats in response to behavioral stress. However, AVP mRNA levels were higher in corticosterone implanted rats post stress compared to cholesterol treated controls. In conclusion, direct administration of corticosterone to the amygdala increases plasma corticosterone in response to a behavioral stressor without altering the diurnal rhythm in plasma corticosterone. Elevated basal levels of mpPVN CRF mRNA, and the induction of a mpPVN AVP mRNA response to the behavioral stressor implicate enhanced ACTH secretagogue expression in the increased HPA response to corticosterone modulation of amygdala function.