The aim of the present study was to identify the N-terminal regions of human corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) receptor type 1 (hCRF-R1) that are crucial for ligand binding. Mutant receptors were constructed by replacing specific residues in hCRF-R1 with amino acids from the corresponding position in the N-terminal region of the human vasoactive intestinal peptide receptor type 2 (hVIP-R2). In cyclic AMP stimulation and CRF binding assays, it was established that two regions within the N-terminal domain were crucial for the binding of CRF receptor agonists and antagonists: one region mapping to amino acids 43-50 and a second amino acid sequence extending from position 76 to 84 of hCRF-R1. Recently, it was found that the latter sequence plays a very important role in determining the high ligand selectivity of the Xenopus CRF-R1 (xCRF-R1). Replacement of amino acids 76-84 of hCRF-R1 with residues from the same segment of the hVIP-R2 N terminus markedly reduced the binding affinity of CRF ligands. Mutation of Arg76 or Asn81 but not Gly83 of hCRF-R1 to the corresponding amino acids of xCRF-R1 or hVIP-R2 resulted in 100-1,000-fold lower affinities for human/rat CRF, rat urocortin, and astressin. These data underline the importance of the N-terminal domain of CRF-R1 in high-affinity ligand binding.