The purpose of the present experiment was to test the hypothesis that corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), a polypeptide of 41 amino acids, when administered either intracerebroventricularly (i.c.v.) or subcutaneously (s.c.), has aversive properties in the conditioned place-preference paradigm. Five doses of CRF (0, 0.005, 0.05, 0.5, 5 micrograms) were tested. i.c.v. CRF induced a specific dose-dependent reduction of the amount of time spent in the environment previously paired with the administration of CRF. Furthermore, this CRF-induced place aversion was prevented by pretreatment with alpha-helical-CRF(9-41), a specific CRF antagonist, administered i.c.v. In order to test whether the aversive effects induced by i.c.v. CRF could result from the stimulation of the HPA axis accompanying i.c.v. CRF injection, the reinforcing properties of s.c. CRF were studied using the same dose range. Only the higher s.c. dose was effective in producing a place aversion suggesting that the aversive effects of CRF could not be due solely to the stimulation of the pituitary-adrenocortical system, measured by plasmatic levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and corticosterone, because the lower doses consistently activate the pituitary-adrenocortical system without producing any behavioral changes. Altogether, these data indicate that the non-neurosecretory CRF neurons may mediate the aversive state occurring during stress.