alpha-Melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH) and oxytocin share remarkable similarities of effects on behaviour in rats; in particular, they both inhibit feeding behaviour and stimulate sexual behaviour. Recently, we showed that alpha-MSH interacts with the magnocellular oxytocin system in the supraoptic nucleus; alpha-MSH induces the release of oxytocin from the dendrites of magnocellular neurones but it inhibits the secretion of oxytocin from their nerve terminals in the posterior pituitary. This effect of alpha-MSH on supraoptic nucleus oxytocin neurones is remarkable for two reasons. First, it illustrates the capacity of magnocellular neurones to differentially regulate peptide release from dendrites and axons and, second, it emphasises the putative role of magnocellular neurones as a major source of central oxytocin release, and as a likely substrate of some oxytocin-mediated behaviours. The ability of peptides to differentially control secretion from different compartments of their targets indicates one way by which peptide signals might have a particularly significant effect on neuronal circuitry. This suggests a possible explanation for the striking way in which some peptides can influence specific, complex behaviours.