We have observed marked heterogeneity among different stressors in their ability to reinstate alcohol seeking in rats. Of the stressors we have tested, only the environmental stressor footshock and the pharmacological stressor yohimbine induce reinstatement. The reasons for such differences among stressors are not known. The purpose of the experiments presented here is to determine the neuroanatomical substrates that underlie these behavioral differences. To this end, we assessed whether stressors effective in inducing reinstatement of alcohol seeking activate a different set of neuronal pathways than do those that are ineffective, using the technique of in situ hybridization of the mRNAs for c-fos, a marker of neuronal activation, and corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), a stress-related peptide we have shown to be critical to footshock-induced reinstatement of alcohol seeking. Exposure of rats to the environmental stressors footshock, restraint or social defeat, or the pharmacological stressors yohimbine or FG-7142 increased levels of the mRNAs for c-fos and CRF in the brain in a number of areas previously shown to be responsive to stressors. We found regionally specific effects of the stressors on c-fos and CRF mRNA in brain regions associated with the rewarding effects of alcohol and other abused drugs. The two stressors we have previously shown to be effective in inducing reinstatement of alcohol seeking, footshock and yohimbine, induced c-fos mRNA in the shell of the nucleus accumbens, and the basolateral and central amygdalar nuclei. These two stressors also induced CRF mRNA in the dorsal region of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. Taken together, these results provide evidence that activity in these regions may be involved in the reinstatement of alcohol seeking induced by these stressors. These results are also in keeping with the previously demonstrated role of CRF neurons in the dorsal bed nucleus of the stria terminalis in the reinstatement of alcohol seeking induced by stress.