Corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) stimulates the synthesis and release of adrenocorticotropin in the anterior pituitary and may help maintain fluid and electrolyte balance. 'Salt-loaded' rats had an increase in CRF mRNA in hypothalamic magnocellular neurons of the paraventricular and supraoptic nuclei and a decrease in message in the parvocellular paraventricular neurons. After salt-loaded rats were adrenalectomized, CRF mRNA increased in the parvocellular cells. In contrast to salt loading, water deprivation lead to a decrease in CRF mRNA in magnocellular and parvocellular neurons. These results show that CRF synthesis within separate populations of hypothalamic neurons is regulated differently under various conditions.