The hypothalamo-neurohypophyseal system (HNS) is the specialised brain neurosecretory apparatus responsible for the production of a peptide hormone, vasopressin, that maintains water balance by promoting water conservation at the level of the kidney. Dehydration evokes a massive increase in the regulated release of hormone from the HNS, and this is accompanied by a plethora of changes in morphology, electrical properties and biosynthetic and secretory activity, all of which are thought to facilitate hormone production and delivery, and hence the survival of the organism. We have adopted a functional genomic strategy to understand the activity dependent plasticity of the HNS in terms of the co-ordinated action of cellular and genetic networks. Firstly, using microarray gene-profiling technologies, we are elucidating which genes are expressed in the HNS, and how the pattern of expression changes following physiological challenge. The next step is to use transgenic rats to probe the functions of these genes in the context of the physiological integrity of the whole organism.