Previous work has characterized an anorexic action for endogenous, central nervous system corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). Central injection of CRF decreases food intake induced pharmacologically by various appetite stimulants and a CRF antagonist attenuates restraint stress anorexia. Also, stressful physiological stimuli that are relevant to ingestive regulation, such as glucoprivation and protein nutrient deficiency, activate CRF systems. The present experiments examined the effects of exogenously administered CRF and a CRF antagonist, alpha-helical CRF(9-41), on spontaneous feeding induced by neuropeptide Y (NPY) and by a tail-pinch stressor. Pretreatment with a low dose of the CRF antagonist (1 microgram ICV) enhanced the hyperphagia induced by NPY while reducing the latency to begin feeding and increasing the duration of eating during tail pinch. Higher doses of alpha-hel CRF (5 and 25 micrograms ICV) exhibited diminishing or opposite effects. In contrast, CRF pretreatment (0.02, 0.1, and 0.5 microgram ICV) blocked the acquisition of tail-pinch feeding. Hence, while CRF administration impairs intake in these and other feeding paradigms, alpha-hel CRF actually facilitated dose dependently the intensity of the feeding response to NPY and tail pinch. These results suggest that endogenous CRF systems may play a role in modulating excessive feeding under conditions of evoked appetite and that brain CRF systems regulate feeding when excessive intake threatens to compromise the performance of other noningestive behaviors.