To develop and validate a vasopressin (AVP) receptor knockdown strategy, we infused an antisense oligodeoxynucleotide to the V1 subtype mRNA into the septum of male rats with osmotic minipumps and measured behavioral, cellular and molecular parameters. Compared to vehicle and scrambled-sequence oligo controls, chronic antisense administration for up to 4 d diminished the ability of the animals to distinguish a previously exposed juvenile from a novel one and to respond to exogenous AVP (1 ng/5 microliters, intracerebroventricular) with an improved social memory. Furthermore, anxiety-related behavior was reduced. As measured in the behaviorally tested rats, antisense treatment resulted in a reduced binding of radiolabeled AVP in the septum, but not in other limbic brain areas (receptor autoradiography), and an increased amount of V1 receptor mRNA (reverse transcriptase PCR), indicating translational arrest and ongoing transcriptional activity. In sense oligo-treated rats, on the other hand, both the social and the anxiety-related behavior scores lay between levels obtained in control and antisense-treated animals. These sense-treated rats showed a slightly reduced V1 receptor density in the septum and reduced receptor mRNA levels, indicating hybridization of the sense oligo to the DNA. The data show the potential of antisense targeting to further reveal relationships between local gene expression, neuropeptide-receptor interactions in distinct brain areas, and behavioral performance.