The antistress effect of theanine (γ-glutamylethylamide), an amino acid in tea, was investigated using mice that were psychosocially stressed from a conflict among male mice in conditions of confrontational housing. Two male mice were housed in the same cage separated by a partition to establish a territorial imperative. When the partition was removed, the mice were co-housed confrontationally. As a marker for the stress response, changes in the adrenal gland were studied in comparison to group-housed control mice (six mice in a cage). Significant adrenal hypertrophy was observed in mice during confrontational housing, which was developed within 24 h and persisted for at least 1 week. The size of cells in the zona fasciculata of the adrenal gland, from which glucocorticoid is mainly secreted, increased (∼1.11-fold) in mice during confrontational housing, which was accompanied by a flattened diurnal rhythm of corticosterone and ACTH in blood. The ingestion of theanine (>5 μg ml(-1)) prior to confrontational housing significantly suppressed adrenal hypertrophy. An antidepressant, paroxetin, suppressed adrenal hypertrophy in a similar manner in mice during confrontational housing. In mice that ingested theanine, behavioural depression was also suppressed, and a diurnal rhythm of corticosterone and ACTH was observed, even in mice that were undergoing confrontational housing. Furthermore, the daily dose of theanine (40 μg ml(-1)) blocked the counteracting effects of caffeine (30 μg ml(-1)) and catechin (200 μg ml(-1)). The present study demonstrated that theanine prevents and relieves psychosocial stress through the modulation of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity.