We investigated the effects of electrical foot shock stress on the melanocortin signaling cascade and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system by observing levels of mRNA expression of corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC), and melanocortin receptor subtype 4 (MC4R) in the rat amygdala and hypothalamus. When rats were exposed to electrical shock for 0.5 hr or 1 hr, plasma ACTH and corticosterone concentrations increased, indicating stress. The rats were then sacrificed to obtain RNA preparations from the brain tissue. In the amygdala, the expression of MC4R and POMC mRNA as well as CRF mRNA was significantly increased by electrical foot shock stress. In the hypothalamus, MC4R and POMC mRNA increased, but CRF mRNA remained unchanged. The duration of increased gene expression of MC4R and POMC in the amygdala was more sustained than in the hypothalamus. These results have provided the first evidence that exposure to stress increases expression of the MC4R system in the amygdala and hypothalamus.