Roman-high (RHA/Verh) and low (RLA/Verh) avoidance rats are selected and bred for rapid learning versus non-acquisition of two-way, active avoidance behavior in a shuttle box. RHA/Verh rats generally show a more active coping style than do their RLA/Verh counterparts when exposed to various environmental challenges. The central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) is known to be involved in the regulation of autonomic, neuroendocrine and behavioural responses to stress and stress-free conditions, and it is considered in relation to coping strategies. Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) seems to be a key factor in the control of the CeA output. Neuroanatomical studies have revealed that the majority of CRH fibers from the CeA have direct connections with autonomic regulatory nuclei in the brainstem, e.g. lateral parabrachial nucleus (lPB), ventrolateral periaquaductal gray (vlPAG). The modulating effects of CRH (30 ng) on CeA activity were studied by infusion of CRH into the CeA in freely moving male RHA/Verh and RLA/Verh rats under stress-free conditions. Heart-rate and behavioural activities were repeatedly measured before, during and after local administration of CRH or vehicle, after which early gene product FOS immunocytochemistry and CRH-mRNA in situ hybridisation were carried out in selected brain areas. CRH infusion into the CeA caused a long lasting increase in heart-rate and behavioural activation in the RHA/Verh rats, leaving the RLA/Verh rats unaffected. As a result of CRH infusion, the number of FOS positive cells in the CeA and lPB of RLA/Verh rats was increased whereas an opposite response was found in the RHA/Verh rats. However, CRH into the CeA of the Roman rat lines induced no pronounced effects on FOS staining in the vlPAG and CRH mRNA levels in the CeA. These results indicate that the CRH system of the CeA, connected with the output brainstem areas, is differentially involved in cardiovascular and behavioural responses.