To study the effect of acute stress on CRF release and synthesis in rat hypothalamus, ACTH levels in plasma, CRF contents in the median eminence (ME), and CRF mRNA levels in the hypothalamus without ME and cerebral cortex were determined after insulin-induced hypoglycemia. Plasma ACTH levels increased at 30 and 60 min, while ME CRF content decreased at 30 and 60 min, then returned to the control level at 90 min. Hybridization with a cRNA probe revealed a single size class of CRF mRNA in the hypothalamus and cerebral cortex (approximately 1300 nucleotides), and the size of CRF mRNA in these tissues did not change during the experimental period. CRF mRNA levels in the hypothalamus increased to 130% of the control value at 30 min and reached a peak (186% of the control value) at 120 min, but these levels in the cerebral cortex did not change. These results suggest that insulin-induced hypoglycemia stimulates CRF synthesis by increasing CRF mRNA levels in the hypothalamus as well as CRF release, and that release and synthesis of CRF in the cerebral cortex are independent of those in the hypothalamus.