Corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) is a neuropeptide found throughout the central nervous system that has a proposed role in modulating emotional and behavioral states, including stress and anxiety. The amygdala, which is important in the control of emotional and autonomic responses to stress, contains CRF nerve terminals, CRF cell bodies, and CRF receptors. In rats, exposure to prenatal stress results in offspring that display a hyperemotional state and increased anxiety. In this study the effects of prenatal stress on CRF release was measured in amygdala minces (1 mm3) obtained from adult (8-16 weeks of age) male offspring of dams subjected to daily saline injection (0.1 ml, s.c.) from gestational day 14 to 21. CRF release from amygdala was time- and calcium-dependent, and stimulated by KCl-induced depolarization. Depolarization-induced CRF release was significantly increased by 42% from the amygdala of prenatally stressed offspring versus controls. Prenatally stressed offspring also showed a 49% increase in CRF levels in the amygdala. The increased amounts of CRF released in response to depolarization were likely the consequence of increased tissue content of CRF, as fractional release under basal or KCl-stimulated conditions was not different in the prenatal stress group versus control. This suggests that a long-lasting up-regulation of the CRFergic neurotransmission may occur in the amygdala, which may be important in the generation of hyperemotional offspring after exposure to prenatal stress.