Since corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) was first characterized, a growing family of ligands and receptors has evolved. The mammalian family members include CRF, urocortinI (UcnI), UcnII, and UcnIII, along with two receptors, CRFR1 and CRFR2, and a CRF binding protein. These family members differ in their tissue distribution and pharmacology. Studies have provided evidence supporting an important role of this family in regulation of the endocrine and behavioral responses to stress. Although CRF appears to play a stimulatory role in stress responsivity through activation of CRFR1, specific actions of UcnII and UcnIII on CRFR2 may be important for dampening stress sensitivity. As the only ligand with high affinity for both receptors, UcnI's role may be promiscuous. Regulation of the relative contribution of the two CRF receptors to brain CRF pathways may be essential in coordinating physiological responses to stress. The development of disorders related to heightened stress sensitivity and dysregulation of stress-coping mechanisms appears to involve regulatory mechanisms of CRF family members.