To investigate the effects of an ethologically-relevant stressor on central and peripheral release of arginine vasopressin and oxytocin, we forced adult male Wistar rats to swim for 10 min and simultaneously measured the release of the two peptides (i) within the hypothalamic supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei (by means of the microdialysis technique) and (ii) into the blood (by chronically-implanted jugular venous catheters). Forced swimming caused a significant rise in the release of arginine vasopressin and oxytocin within both the supraoptic nuclei (four-fold and three-fold, respectively) and the paraventricular nuclei (three-fold and four- to five-fold, respectively). Release patterns measured before, during and after repeated stress exposure on three consecutive days indicated that, at the level of the hypothalamus, the two neuropeptides are critically involved in the rats' stress response in a peptide-, locus- and stress-specific manner. Particularly, despite a general reduction of the recovery of the microdialysis probes over the time, the release of arginine vasopressin within the paraventricular nuclei and of oxytocin within the supraoptic nuclei tended to increase upon repeated stress exposure. Measurement of plasma peptide concentrations revealed that the central release of oxytocin was accompanied by a secretion of this peptide into the systemic circulation. In contrast, arginine vasopressin, assayed in the same plasma samples, failed to respond to the stressor. The latter finding is consistent with a dissociated release of the neuropeptide from different parts of a single neuron (soma/dendrites vs axon terminals). It provides evidence that under physiological conditions plasma hormone levels do not necessarily reflect the secretory activity of central components of the respective neuropeptidergic system.