In the studies reported here we have examined the role of the medial prefrontal cortex (MpFC) in regulating hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity under basal and stressful conditions. In preliminary studies we characterized corticosteroid receptor binding in the rat MpFC. The results revealed high-affinity (Kd approximately 1 nM) binding with a moderate capacity (42.9 +/- 3 fmol/mg) for 3H- aldosterone (with a 50-fold excess of cold RU28362; mineralocorticoid receptor) and high-affinity (Kd approximately 0.5–1.0 nM) binding with higher capacity (183.2 +/- 22 fmol/mg) for 3H-RU 28362 (glucocorticoid receptor). Lesions of the MpFC (cingulate gyrus) significantly increased plasma levels of both adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) and corticosterone (CORT) in response to a 20 min restraint stress. The same lesions had no effect on hormone levels following a 2.5 min exposure to ether. Implants of crystalline CORT into the same region of the MpFC produced a significant decrease in plasma levels of both ACTH and CORT with restraint stress, but again, there was no effect with ether stress. Neither MpFC lesions nor CORT implants had any consistent effect on A.M. or P.M. levels of plasma ACTH or CORT. Manipulations of MpFC function were not associated with changes in the clearance rate for CORT or in corticosteroid receptor densities in the pituitary, hypothalamus, hippocampus, or amygdala. Taken together, these findings suggest that MpFC is a target site for the negative-feedback effects of glucocorticoids on stress-induced HPA activity, and that this effect is dependent upon the nature of the stress.