A recently discovered neurotransmitter system, consisting of neuropeptide S (NPS), NPS receptor, and NPS-expressing neurons in the brain stem, has received considerable interest due to its modulating influence on arousal, anxiety and stress responsiveness. Comparatively little is known about the properties of NPS-expressing neurons. Therefore in the present study, a transgenic mouse line expressing enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) in NPS neurons was used to characterize the cellular and functional properties of NPS-expressing neurons located close to the locus coeruleus. Particular emphasis was on the influence of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), given previous evidence of stress-related activation of the NPS system. Upon acute immobilization stress, an increase in c-fos expression was detected immunocytochemically in brain stem NPS-EGFP neurons that also expressed the CRF receptor 1 (CRF1). NPS-EGFP neurons were readily identified in acute slice preparations and responded to CRF application with a membrane depolarization capable of triggering action potentials. CRF-induced responses displayed pharmacological properties indicative of CRF1 that were mediated by both a reduction in membrane potassium conductance and an increase in a non-specific cation conductance different from the hyperpolarization-activated cation conductance Ih, and involved protein kinase A signalling. In conclusion, stress exposure results in activation of brain stem NPS-expressing neurons, involving a CRF1-mediated membrane depolarization via at least two ionic mechanisms. These data provide evidence for a direct interaction between the CRF and the NPS system and thereby extend previous observations of NPS-modulated stress responsiveness towards a mechanistic level.