In this study, we examined hormonal regulation of the distribution profiles of leukocyte subpopulations in the peripheral blood of rats. Flow cytometric analysis revealed significant and selective changes in the numbers and the percentages of peripheral blood leukocyte subpopulations which were a function of diurnal variations in hormone secretion and hormonal changes induced by acute stress. Changes in numbers and percentages of leukocyte subpopulations, which varied with time of day, were similar to changes observed under stress conditions. At the beginning of the rat's active period, and after 1 h of restraint stress, there was a significant reduction in numbers of leukocytes and lymphocytes. This reduction was primarily accounted for by a decrease in numbers of B cells, natural killer cells, monocytes (diurnal study), and helper T cells (diurnal study). There was also a significant decrease in the percentage of lymphocytes which was mirrored by an increase in the percentage of neutrophils in the peripheral blood. Peripheral blood leukocyte numbers were inversely related to plasma corticosterone levels. These results suggest that the endocrine system plays a role in the regulation of immune cell turnover and/or redistribution between immune compartments under conditions of normal daily experiences, namely, the diurnal cycle, and mild acute stress. They also suggest that these effects are selective for certain subpopulations of leukocytes.