Enhanced corticosterone release by female compared to male rats under basal and stress conditions is well documented. The demonstration that gonadectomy enhances stress-induced corticosterone secretion in male rats, but reduces such levels in female rats, suggests a causal association between gonadal steroids and corticosterone release. The present study examined the corticosterone profile of sham gonadectomized and gonadectomized female and male rats under basal and stress conditions. An automated sampling system collected blood from each freely moving, unanaesthetized rat every 10 min (i) over a 24-h period; (ii) following noise stress; and (iii) following an immune-mediated stress (lipopolysaccharide, LPS). Plasma was analysed for corticosterone content using radioimmunoassay. Castration resulted in a significant increase in basal corticosterone release compared to the sham-castrated male rats. Pulsar analysis revealed a significant two-fold increase in the number of corticosterone pulses over 24 h. Corticosterone increases in response to noise stress and to LPS injection were enhanced following castration. Conversely, ovariectomy resulted in a two-fold reduction in the number of corticosterone pulses as well as the stress response compared to sham-ovariectomized female rats. Arginine vasopressin (AVP), corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) and glucocorticoid receptor mRNAs in the paraventricular nucleus and pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) mRNA in the anterior pituitary were analysed post-LPS administration by in situ hybridization. Significantly higher values were found for AVP, CRH and POMC mRNAs examined for sham females and castrated males compared to sham males and ovariectomized females. This study confirms previous reports concerning the influence of gonadal factors in regulating HPA axis activity and stress responsiveness. The present results extend these observations to the regulation of the dynamic pattern of corticosterone release under basal conditions and suggests that this alteration in pulsatility is important for the differences in stress responsiveness when comparing males and females.