Basal levels of immunoreactive (ir) beta-endorphin, corticotropin (ACTH), and prolactin (PRL) in plasma of male rats decrease after dexamethasone pretreatment (400 microgram/kg at 24 hr and 200 microgram/kg at 2 hr before). Inescapable electric footshocks increase ir-beta-endorphin, ACTH, and PRL plasma levels and this effect is blocked by dexamethasone pretreatment. Morphine (20 mg/kg) also increases ir-beta-endorphin, ACTH, and PRL levels. Dexamethasone pretreatment blocks the morphine-induced release of ir-beta-endorphin but does not prevent the morphine-induced release of PRL. Naloxone, the opiate antagonist, decreases basal plasma levels of PRL and partially blocks the stress-induced increase of PRL, but it has no effect on the basal or stress-induced release of ir-beta-endorphin. These results are consistent with the proposal that beta-endorphin may interact with an opiate receptor involved in the regulation of PRL secretion.