We previously demonstrated that 7-d-old rat pups exposed to hypoxia from birth exhibit ACTH-independent increases in corticosterone associated with an increase in steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) and peripheral-type benzodiazepine receptor (PBR) proteins. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether this increase in corticosterone could be attenuated by chemical sympathectomy induced with guanethidine treatment. Rat pups were exposed to normoxia or hypoxia from birth and treated with vehicle or guanethidine and studied at 7 d of age. Hypoxia per se resulted in an increase in plasma corticosterone without a change in plasma ACTH. Guanethidine treatment attenuated the increase in basal corticosterone in hypoxic pups but did not attenuate ACTH-stimulated corticosterone production. This effect was specific as basal and ACTH-stimulated aldosterone was not affected. Guanethidine also attenuated the increase in StAR protein induced by hypoxia. Neither the effect of hypoxia nor that of guanethidine could be explained by changes in the levels of adrenal tyrosine hydroxylase, StAR, or P450scc mRNA, adrenal tyrosine hydroxylase immunohistochemistry, or adrenal catecholamine content. We conclude that chemical sympathectomy normalizes basal corticosterone levels but has no effect on ACTH-stimulated corticosterone levels in 7-d-old rats exposed to hypoxia from birth. The mechanism of the effect of guanethidine to normalize hypoxia-stimulated basal corticosterone remains to be identified, although StAR protein may be an important mediator. This ACTH-independent increase in corticosterone may be a mechanism by which the neonate can increase circulating glucocorticoids necessary for survival while bypassing the hyporesponsiveness of the neonatal hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal axis.