CRH is known as the main stimulator of ACTH release. In representatives of all nonmammalian vertebrates, CRH has also been shown to induce TSH secretion, acting directly at the level of the pituitary. We have investigated which cell types and receptors are involved in CRH-induced TSH release in the chicken (Gallus gallus). Because a lack of CRH type 1 receptors (CRH-R1) on the chicken thyrotropes has been previously reported, two hypotheses were tested using in situ hybridization and perifusion studies: 1) TSH secretion might be induced in a paracrine way involving melanocortins from the corticotropes; and 2) thyrotropes might express another type of CRH-R. For the latter, we have cloned a partial cDNA encoding the chicken CRH-R2. Neither alpha-melanotropin (alpha-MSH) nor its powerful analog Nle(4), D-Phe(7)-MSH could mimic the in vitro TSH-releasing effect of ovine CRH. The nonselective melanocortin receptor blocker SHU91199 did not influence CRH- or TRH-induced TSH secretion. On the other hand, we have found that thyrotropes express CRH-R2 mRNA. The involvement of this CRH receptor in the response of thyrotropes to CRH was further confirmed by the fact that TSH release was stimulated by human urocortin III, a CRHR2-specific agonist, whereas the TSH response to CRH was completely blocked by the CRH- R blocker astressin and the CRH-R2- specific antagonist antisauvagine-30. We conclude that CRH- induced TSH secretion is mediated by CRH-R2 expressed on thyrotropes.