Integration of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal stress response occurs by way of interactions between stress-sensitive brain circuitry and neuroendocrine neurons of the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN). Stressors involving an immediate physiologic threat ('systemic' stressors) are relayed directly to the PVN, probably via brainstem catecholaminergic projections. By contrast, stressors requiring interpretation by higher brain structures ('processive' stressors) appear to be channeled through limbic forebrain circuits. Forebrain limbic sites connect with the PVN via interactions with GABA-containing neurons in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, preoptic area and hypothalamus. Thus, final elaboration of processive stress responses is likely to involve modulation of PVN GABAergic tone. The functional and neuroanatomical data obtained suggest that disease processes involving inappropriate stress control involve dysfunction of processive stress pathways.