Fasting has severe effects on thyroid metabolism in the chicken: plasma thyroxine (T-4) concentrations increase, whereas 3',5,3-triiodothyronine (T-3) concentrations decrease. In the present report we studied the effect of fasting at the level of: 1) the pituitary (plasma thyrotropin (TSH) concentrations; the sensitivity of thyrotrophs to corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and TSH-releasing hormone (TRH)); and 2) the hypothalamus (TRH content). A regulatory role of corticosterone is discussed. One day of fasting resulted in a drop in plasma TSH concentrations. Fed and nonfed animals were treated with ovine CRH (oCRH) or TRH. The sensitivity of thyrotrophs to the respective hypothalamic hormones was increased when animals were subjected to a 1-d period of fasting. A 75% (TRH) and 50% (oCRH) increase in plasma TSH was recorded in fasted animals, whereas both secretagogues did not evoke any response in their fed counterparts. The drop in plasma TSH cannot, therefore, be attributed to a loss in sensitivity of thyrotrophs to hypothalamic stimulatory control. Ln an identical experiment, plasma TSH concentrations decreased, whereas hypothalamic TRH content was higher in fasted animals, suggesting a decreased hypothalamic TRH release toward the pituitary. In both fasting experiments, plasma corticosterone concentrations were increased after 1 d of fasting. Because an iv injection of corticosterone-elevated hypothalamic TRH contents and decreased plasma TSH concentrations, a corticosterone-induced TSH decrease during fasting is suggested through an action at the level of the hypothalamus. (C) Elsevier Science Inc. 1999.