Major advances have been made in the understanding of the pathophysiology of stress-related alteration of gut function. A wealth of information indicates that CRF is involved in the central mechanisms by which stress inhibits gastric emptying while stimulating colonic motor function. CRF acts in the PVN to trigger both the inhibition of gastric emptying and the stimulation of colonic motor function in response to stress, in addition to previously established endocrine and behavioral responses. Preliminary evidence exists that CRF acts in the locus coeruleus to induce a selective stimulation of colonic transit without influencing gastric emptying. The central actions of CRF to alter gastric and colonic motor function are conveyed by autonomic pathways and are unrelated to the associated stimulation of pituitary hormone secretion. The demonstration that central CRF plays a role in mediating gastric stasis resulting from surgery, peritonitis or high levels of central interleukin-1 provides new insight into the mechanisms involved in gastric ileus induced postoperatively or by infectious disease. Likewise, the demonstration that CRF in the PVN and locus coeruleus induce the anxiogenic and colonic motor responses to stress and that colonic distention activates neurons in the locus coeruleus opens new avenues for the understanding of the pathogenesis of a subset of IBS patients with colonic hypersensitivity associated with psychopathological disturbance and diarrhea-predominant symptoms.