Corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), a key neuroregulator of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortical axis, also displays a broad range of effects on the endocrine, central nervous and immune systems. Having recently characterized the human pituitary CRF receptor by expression cloning of cDNA from a human Cushing's corticotropic adenoma, we report here the structure of the cDNA for a rat brain CRF receptor (rCRF-R) which was cloned by hybridization from a rat brain cDNA library. The sequence of the rCRF-R encodes a 415 amino acid protein comprising seven membrane spanning domains. The rCRF-R is 97% identical at the amino acid level to the human pituitary tumor CRF receptor, differing by only 12 amino acids. When expressed in COSM6 cells, the rCRF-R binds CRF with high affinity (Kd = 1.7 (0.8-3.8)nM). The receptor transduces a CRF stimulated accumulation of intracellular cAMP which is inhibited by the CRF antagonist, alpha helCRF(9-41). These results suggest that the brain expresses a CRF receptor similar to that in the pituitary.