Activation of the sympathetic innervation precedes the induction of polycystic ovaries in rats given estradiol valerate (EV). The mechanism of induction by EV may thus involve both direct and neurogenic components. We tested this hypothesis using a combined cold and restraint stress to induce an increase in sympathetic tone, including that of the ovarian sympathetic nerves. Three weeks after the start of stress we found: 1. An increase in the content of norepinephrine (NE) in the celiac ganglion. 2. An increase in the release of NE from the ovary. 3. An unchanged NE uptake by the ovary. 4. An unchanged content of NE in the ovary. The ovarian content of neuropeptide Y (NPY) (colocalized with NE) was significantly decreased. These results suggest that NE synthesis and its secretion are increased during this period and correlate with the increase in secretion of androgens and estradiol, the development of precystic follicles, and a decrease in the ovulatory rate. After 11 wk, NE release had returned to control values, whereas the ovarian NE content had risen significantly, suggesting a maintained high rate of NE synthesis. In the ovary, NPY contents, steroid secretion, morphology, and ovulation had returned to the control state. These results suggest the participation of an extraovarian factor that might act locally to control the release of NE from the ovary, and further support the hypothesis that increased sympathetic activity plays a role in the development and maintenance of ovarian cysts.