Neuropeptide Y (NPY) decreases anxiety-related behaviors in various animal models of anxiety. The purpose of the present study was to examine the role of the amygdalar NPY system in anxiety-related responses in the elevated plus maze. The first experiment determined if herpes virus-mediated alterations in amygdalar NPY levels would alter anxiety-related behaviors in the elevated plus maze. Viral vectors encoding NPY, NPY antisense, or LacZ (control virus) were bilaterally injected into the amygdala, and 4 days postinjection, rats were tested in the elevated plus maze test. NPY-like immunoreactivity (NPY-ir) was measured in the amygdala of these rats. In rats injected with the viral vector encoding NPY, reduced anxiety-related behaviors in the elevated plus maze accompanied by moderate increases in NPY-ir were detected compared to NPY-antisense viral vector-treated subjects. Elevated plus maze behavior did not differ compared to LacZ-treated controls. NPY overexpression at this time point was also suggested by enhanced NPY mRNA expression seen in the amygdala 4 days postinjection using real-time polymerase chain reaction analysis. Experiment 2 was conducted to provide further evidence for a role of amygdalar NPY in regulating anxiety-related behaviors in the elevated plus maze test. The nonpeptide NPY Y1 receptor antagonist, BIBP 3226 (1.5 microg/microl), was bilaterally injected into the amygdala and rats were tested in the elevated plus maze test. Rats receiving BIBP 3226 exhibited increased anxiety-related behaviors in this test. The results of these experiments provide further support for the role of amygdalar NPY in anxiety-related behaviors.