To characterize the nature of CRF-like immunoreactivity (CRF-LI) in the dog adrenal, adrenal medullary, adrenal cortical, or hypothalamic tissue was extracted and subjected to RIA after partial purification on C-18 cartridges or Sephadex G-50. Using N- and C-terminal-directed antisera against rat/human (r/h) CRF, significant levels of CRF-LI were found in the adrenal medulla and hypothalamus, but not in the adrenal cortex. Immunocytochemical analysis revealed that CRF-immunoreactive cells were located in the adrenal medulla, many of them concentrated in the vicinity of blood vessels and at the border between adrenal medulla and cortex. However, the cortex was devoid of any CRF-positive cells. On reverse phase HPLC, CRF-LI in the adrenal medulla coeluted with synthetic r/hCRF. In a bioassay system, using dispersed rat anterior pituitary cells, purified adrenal CRF caused a dose-dependent increase in ACTH secretion parallel to the r/hCRF standard, indicating that dog adrenal medulla contains authentic r/hCRF. Evidence of CRF-LI secretion from the adrenal was supported by its presence in adrenal venous, but not in peripheral arterial, plasma. Adrenal venous plasma CRF-LI coeluted with r/hCRF on reverse phase HPLC after affinity chromatographic purification. The CRF-LI secretory rate in conscious trained dogs was 68 Â± 19 pg/min (concentration, 27 Â± 5 pg/ml). In response to 20% hemorrhage, the CRF-LI secretion rate rose 3-fold within 15 mih and was associated with increased catecholamine secretion. The existence of a biologically active CRF-like substance in the dog adrenal medulla and its secretion in conjunction with catecholamines after a hemorrhage suggest a physiological role for this peptide other than pituitary or central nervous system regulation.