In the sheep, in contrast to the rat, arginine vasopressin (AVP) is a more potent stimulus to ACTH secretion from the anterior pituitary (AP) than CRF. To further explore this difference, we have compared [3H]AVP and [125I]-[Nle21Tyr32] ovine CRF binding in membranes prepared from rat and sheep AP. Between species, no difference in affinity of binding was found for either ligand. In contrast, the concentration of AVP receptors in sheep AP was twice that in rat, whereas that of CRF receptors was only one tenth. AVP receptor concentration in sheep AP was not altered by chronic (10 day) dexamethasone administration, but fell to 60% of control after chronic (60 day) hypothalamo-pituitary-disconnection. The increased level of AVP receptors and the much lower level of CRF receptors in sheep compared with rat may thus provide an explanation for our previous findings of increased sensitivity to AVP and a very poor response to CRF in stimulating ACTH release from the sheep AP. In addition the finding that AVP receptor numbers are reduced in the hypothalamo-pituitary-disconnected sheep suggests that hypothalamic factors may play a role in regulating AVP receptor concentration in the ovine AP gland.