Single rat neurointermediate lobes were impaled on a stimulating electrode and continuously perifused with oxygenated medium. The secretion of oxytocin and vasopressin into the medium was measured by specific radio-immunoassays. The temporal profile of vasopressin release during a 20 min period of 13 Hz stimulation was compared with that of oxytocin. The results indicate that although the rate of secretion of both oxytocin and vasopressin declines over 20 min, the extent and time course of this fatigue is different for the two hormones. This difference could not be accounted for by differences in the rate of diffusion of released hormone from the tissue which was similar to the rate of wash-out of [14C]sucrose from the extracellular space in pre-labelled glands. In separate experiments glands were exposed to a prolonged period (60-70 min) of 13 Hz stimulation interrupted by brief silent periods (30 s-2 min duration). Some recovery from the fatigue of vasopressin secretion was evident after even the shortest of these silent periods. In further experiments glands were stimulated electrically for 18, 36, 54 and 72 s at 13 Hz: the order of presentation of the periods of stimulation was randomized between experiments. The vasopressin release rate declined markedly and progressively between 18 and 72 s. In contrast, the oxytocin release rate was relatively uniform throughout 72 s of stimulation. Thus vasopressin secretion is subject to a relatively rapid and dramatic fatigue. The results support the hypothesis that the phasic discharge patterns characteristic of vasopressin secreting neurones optimize the efficiency of vasopressin release from the nerve terminals in the neurohypophysis by avoiding the fatigue of stimulus-secretion coupling that accompanies continual stimulation.