Ten healthy subjects received 200 micrograms of human CRF (hCRF) and 200 micrograms of ovine CRF (oCRF) as an intravenous bolus injection on two different occasions. After hCRF plasma ACTH levels rose significantly (P less than 0.0005, by Friedman's nonparametric analysis of variance) from a basal value of 35 +/- 3 pg/ml (mean +/- SEM) to a peak value of 80 +/- 7 pg/ml 30 min after hCRF administration. This ACTH response was followed by a rise in plasma cortisol levels (P less than 0.0005, by Friedman's test) from a baseline value of 0.32 +/- 0.03 mumol/l to a peak value of 0.56 +/- 0.02 mumol/l 60 min after hCRF. Ovine CRF elicited similar rises in the plasma ACTH and cortisol levels. However, as derived from the faster rate of decline of ACTH and cortisol after hCRF than after oCRF, human CRF had a significantly shorter duration of action than ovine CRF in humans. Human CRF not only stimulated ACTH release by the human pituitary gland but also prolactin release. After hCRF administration prolactin levels rose significantly (P less than 0.005, by Friedman's test) from a basal value of 179 +/- 18 mU/l to a peak value of 288 +/- 34 mU/l at 10 min.