CART peptide is a neurotransmitter involved in various physiological processes including feeding, sensory processing, development, addiction, and stress. Substantial amounts of CART mRNA and CART peptide expression have been demonstrated in the hypothalamic periventricular area, the paraventricular nucleus of hypothalamus, the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland and the adrenal gland in addition to many other brain areas. This localization defines the HPA axis, responsible for the stress response. The aim of the present study was to assess the possible mediation of the CART peptides in the stress response by testing for changes in CART in adrenalectomized animals. Three groups of male Sprague-Dawley rats were used for the study: sham operated, adrenalectomized (ADX), and ADX+hormone replacement (corticosterone, 30 mug/ml in drinking water/5 days). All rats were perfused 7 days after the surgery, brains were removed and serial coronal sections were prepared. Immunohistochemistry was used to assess CART peptide expression in paraventricular and supraoptic cells. ADX lowered both the number and percentage of CART-positive cells compared to the sham-operated group, and hormone replacement partially restored the decrease in the CART cell numbers in ADX animals. There were no significant changes in the supraoptic nucleus. Our results suggest a role for CART peptides in the stress response. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science BY All rights reserved.