There is evidence that levels of adipose tissue can influence responses of the hypothalamopituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to stress in humans and rats but this has not been explored in sheep. Also, little is known about the sympathoadrenal responses to stress in individuals with relatively different levels of adipose tissue. We tested the hypothesis that the stress-induced activation of the HPA axis and sympathoadrenal system is lower in ovariectomized ewes with low levels of body fat (lean) than ovariectomized ewes with high levels of body fat (fat). Ewes underwent dietary manipulation for 3 months to yield a group of lean ewes (n = 7) with a mean (+/-SEM) live weight of 39.1 +/- 0.9 kg and body fat of 8.9 +/- 0.6 and fat ewes (n = 7) with a mean (+/-SEM) live weight of 69.0 +/- 1.8 kg and body fat of 31.7 +/- 3.4 . Fat ewes also had higher circulating concentrations of leptin than lean ewes. Blood samples were collected every 15 min over 8 h when no stress was imposed (control day) and on a separate day when 4 h of isolation/restraint was imposed after 4 h of pretreatment sampling (stress day). Plasma concentrations of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine did not change significantly over the control day and did not differ between lean and fat ewes. Stress did not affect plasma leptin levels. All stress hormones increased significantly during isolation/restraint stress. The ACTH, cortisol and epinephrine responses were greater in fat ewes than lean ewes but norepinephrine responses were similar. Our results suggest that relative levels of adipose tissue influence the stress-induced activity of the hypothalamopituitary-adrenal axis and some aspects of the sympathoadrenal system with fat animals having higher responses than lean animals. Copyright (c) 2008 S. Karger AG, Basel.