Endocrine responses to noise stress and anxiety-related behaviors were measured in groups of ovariectomized, estradiol-treated female rats given central infusions of oxytocin. Control animals receiving isotonic saline showed a large increase in plasma corticosterone concentrations in response to 10 min of white noise. This response to noise stress was significantly and dose dependently decreased by oxytocin administered intracerebroventricularly at 10 or 100 ng/h for 5 days. Oxytocin also significantly decreased rearing behavior during this stress. When a second noise stress was given 3 days after cessation of oxytocin infusion, corticosterone responses did not differ between the control and previously oxytocin-infused animals. Administration of vasopressin had no significant effect on either the corticosterone or behavioral responses to noise stress. Anxiety-related behaviors were measured on the elevated plus-maze. No significant differences were seen in maze exploration between saline- and oxytocin-treated animals when housed and tested in the same environment. However, when animals were mildly stressed by testing in an unfamiliar environment, oxytocin-treated animals showed a higher proportion of open arm entries and spent significantly more time in the open arms of the maze. Thus, oxytocin exerts a central anxiolytic-like effect on both endocrine and behavioral systems and could play a role in moderating behavioral and physiological responses to stress.