The aim of the present study was to evaluate a role in vasopressin secretion of the catecholaminergic neurons, including the tuberohypophysial dopaminergic neurons situated in the arcuate hypothalamic nucleus. A neurotoxin, 6-hydroxydopamine (6 g/l), was injected locally into the arcuate nucleus and its effects on catecholamine levels of the hypothalamic tissue and the neurointermediate lobe, and on the plasma vasopressin concentrations before and during i.v. infusion (0.1 ml kg-1 min-1) of isotonic (0.15 mol/l) or hypertonic saline (2.5 mol/l), were examined in conscious rats. The infusion of hypertonic saline produced increases of plasma vasopressin 15 and 30 min later, accompanied by elevations of plasma osmolality, sodium, chloride and arterial pressure. The vasopressin response was potentiated markedly by the 6-hydroxydopamine injection performed 8 days before, which hardly affected the responses of the other variables. Histological examination indicated that the injection sites of 6-hydroxydopamine in those rats had been located in the area ranging from rostral to medial arcuate nucleus. The i.v. infusion of isotonic saline did not change plasma vasopressin, osmolality, sodium, chloride or arterial pressure, regardless of the presence or absence of pretreatment with 6-hydroxydopamine. It was confirmed that when 6-hydroxydopamine was injected into the arcuate nucleus region 8 days before, noradrenaline and adrenaline concentrations of the hypothalamic tissue containing the injection site were decreased remarkably, although we could not detect any significant alteration in the dopamine concentration of the hypothalamic tissue or the neurointermediate lobe. On the basis of these results, we concluded that catecholaminergic neurons in the arcuate nucleus may act to inhibit osmotic vasopressin secretion.