We had previously demonstrated that continual-hypoxia stimulated corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF)mRNA in hypothalamus, and release of CRF, as well as enhancing plasma adrenocorticotropic-hormone and corticosterone of rats. The present study demonstrates using in situ autoradiography that CRF receptor 1 (CRFR1) and CRF receptor 2 (CRFR2) mRNA in the rat anterior pituitary is changed by intermittent hypoxia, cold, restraint, alone and in combination. Rats were exposed to intermittent hypoxia for 4 h/day during various periods in a hypobaric chamber. Hypoxia equivalent to an altitude of around 2 km (16.0% O2) or 5 km (10.8% O2) caused a biphasic change in both CRFR1 and R2 mRNA, there being an initial significant decline on day 1 and then an enhancement by day 2. The increase of both receptor subtypes mRNA was relatively well maintained up to 15 days in rats exposed to 2 km intermittently. CRFR2 mRNA in rats exposed to 5 km, after peaking at day 2 therefore declined and was not different to controls at 15 days. Five kilometer hypoxia markedly reduced body weight gain. The increased CRFR1 mRNA was also induced by restraint alone, hypoxia+restraint and hypoxia+cold but not by cold alone. The CRFR2 mRNA was significantly increased by all the stresses except for hypoxia+restraint. These results show that the acute response to intermittent hypoxia is a decrease in the CRF receptor mRNA whereas longer exposure to the three environmental stressors hypoxia, cold and restraint is needed to provoke an increase. This may have important consequences for adaptation to high altitude. The significant differences between the expression of CRFR1 mRNA and CRFR2 mRNA in response to the different stimuli might suggest that the two receptors in the pituitary play different roles in behavior.