Exposing rats to repeated restraint stress induces well-characterized adaptations in the expression of either corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) or arginine-vasopressin (AVP) mRNA in the parvocellular neurons of the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN). The effects of regulating corticosterone levels on this adaptation was studied in male rats. In intact rats, acute restraint stress increased the expression of CRF mRNA whilst AVP mRNA expression was no different to control. Repeated exposure resulted in habituation of CRF expression, whereas AVP mRNA increased above that seen in either non stressed or acutely stressed animals. In adrenalectomised rats with replacement pellets of corticosterone that replicated blood levels approximating to the daily trough (mean levels 37–65 ng/mL), basal CRF expression levels were raised, but the response to acute stress was still observed. However, the habituation seen in normal animals that had been repeatedly stressed was prevented, so that CRF mRNA levels continued to be raised after repeated stress. By contrast, the AVP response to both acute and repeated stress was unaltered in these low-dose corticosterone-treated rats compared with controls. Higher dose pellets, which resulted in blood levels around those of the daily maximum (mean 118–141 ng/mL) had the opposite effects. There was no change compared to intact rats in the expression of CRF mRNA following either acute or repeated stress, but the expected increase in AVP following repeated restraint was prevented. These experiments show that corticosterone has important modulating effects on the adaptive pattern of both CRF and AVP mRNA expression in the parvocellular PVN. The ‘set-point’ of corticosterone differs; for CRF, experiencing higher levels is necessary for subsequent adaptation to repeated restraint to occur, whereas for AVP a return to lower levels is necessary to allow this peptide to respond to repeated stress.