Studies were performed to evaluate the effects of glucocorticoids on the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and adrenal medulla. Plasma concentrations of norepinephrine and epinephrine were measured in rats in which endogenous glucocorticoids were removed by bilateral adrenalectomy and in rats to which exogenous glucocorticoids were administered. In intact rats, dexamethasone (2.5, 25 or 250 micrograms) pretreatment suppressed ether vapor-induced elevations of norepinephrine and epinephrine concentrations in plasma. Corticosterone (3 mg/kg), similar to dexamethasone, attenuated the elevation of plasma concentrations of norepinephrine and epinephrine in rats exposed to ether vapor. Glucocorticoids did not alter the elevation of plasma catecholamines stimulated by intracerebroventricular injections of corticotropin-releasing factor or calcitonin gene-related peptide, thus demonstrating functional integrity of the sympathetic nervous system and adrenal medulla. Adrenalectomy resulted in elevation of basal plasma norepinephrine levels and accentuation of ether vapor-induced elevations of plasma norepinephrine concentrations in rats. Dexamethasone (25 ug) administration blunted the effects of adrenalectomy on both basal and ether vapor-stimulated levels of plasma norepinephrine. It is concluded that glucocorticoids acting at as yet undefined sites may be involved in the regulation of sympathetic nervous system and adrenal medullary function.