Acute foot shock stress elicits a selective and time-dependent increase of neuroactive steroid (pregnenolone, progesterone, allotetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone) concentrations in rat brain cortex, accompanied by a marked increase of plasma corticosterone. The brain cortical neuroactive steroid levels peaked between 10 and 30 min poststress and returned to control values by 2 h. Abecarnil (0.3 mg/kg), i.p.), a beta-carboline derivative with anxiolytic properties, completely antagonized the effect of foot shock on brain cortical neuroactive steroids. A single administration of the anxiogenic beta-carboline FG 7142 (15 mg/kg, i.p.), in contrast, mimicked the effect of foot shock. These data support the hypothesis for the existence of a functional relationship between brain neuroactive steroid concentrations and GABAA receptor function/emotional state of the animal.