Neuropeptides modulate neuronal function in hippocampus, but the organization of hippocampal sites of peptide release and actions is not fully understood. The stress-associated neuropeptide corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) is expressed in inhibitory interneurons of rodent hippocampus, yet physiological and pharmacological data indicate that it excites pyramidal cells. Here we aimed to delineate the structural elements underlying the actions of CRH, and determine whether stress influenced hippocampal principal cells also via actions of this endogenous peptide. In hippocampal pyramidal cell layers, CRH was located exclusively in a subset of GABAergic somata, axons and boutons, whereas the principal receptor mediating the peptide's actions, CRH receptor 1 (CRF1), resided mainly on dendritic spines of pyramidal cells. Acute 'psychological' stress led to activation of principal neurons that expressed CRH receptors, as measured by rapid phosphorylation of the transcription factor cyclic AMP responsive element binding protein. This neuronal activation was abolished by selectively blocking the CRF1 receptor, suggesting that stress-evoked endogenous CRH release was involved in the activation of hippocampal principal cells.