Lactation is associated with complex changes of the hypothalamo- neurohypophysial system, and oxytocin released within the hypothalamic supraoptic (SON) and paraventricular nuclei may serve as a signal of communication between the magnocellular nuclei in lactating rats. In the first study, the intranuclear and peripheral release patterns of oxytocin and vasopressin in response to intraperitoneal hypertonic saline were studied in virgin and lactating rats to determine if the reduced osmoresponsiveness of the oxytocinergic and vasopressinergic systems during lactation is reflected by reduced release not only into blood, but also within the SON. Simultaneous microdialysis was performed within the SON and the jugular vein before and up to 6 hr after peripheral osmotic stimulation (3.0 M NaCl, 0.6 ml/100 gm body weight, i.p.). There was an immediate increase in secretion of both oxytocin and vasopressin into blood, whereas peptide release within the SON was delayed and peaked after 4–5 hr. Peripheral release of both peptides was significantly reduced in lactating animals, whereas within the SON release of oxytocin, but not vasopressin, was significantly reduced during lactation. In the second study, cross talk between the SONs--another phenomenon which seems to be characteristic for lactation- -was studied. Microdialysis of one SON with hypertonic perfusion medium (with 1 M NaCl) significantly increased the release of oxytocin, vasopressin, and various amino acids (aspartate, glutamate, serine, glutamine, gamma amino butyric acid, and arginine) within the ipsilateral SON. In contrast to virgin female and male animals, this unilateral stimulation of the SON resulted in a transiently increased release of oxytocin in the contralateral SON of lactating rats. The release of vasopressin and amino acids within the contralateral SON of lactating rats remained unchanged, indicating specific activation of contralateral oxytocinergic neurons.