In the rat brain, the binding of corticosterone is mediated through two receptor types, the type I receptor and the type II receptor, which are presumed to be encoded by genes designated as MR and GR, respectively. We have studied the regulation of these receptors by glucocorticoids, utilizing a cytosol receptor binding assay. In addition, we have employed molecular probes for the GR and the MR to measure receptor mRNAs. The level of type II receptor binding is uniform across several brain regions, as is the expression of GR (type II) mRNA. In contrast, type I receptor binding is concentrated in the hippocampus, and the MR (type I) mRNA similarly shows a higher level of expression in hippocampus than in the other brain regions studied. Removal of endogenous glucocorticoids by adrenalectomy (ADX) induces an increase, and corticosterone administration results in a decrease, in the level of type I and type II binding in the hippocampus; however, no significant changes in the MR (type I) or GR (type II) mRNA levels are seen with these treatments. The diurnal variation of serum corticosterone in intact rats is correlated with a circadian regulation of type I receptor binding in the hippocampus, while MR (type I) mRNA expression is unaffected. Thus, the changes in type I and type II receptor binding capacity elicited by differing steroid conditions cannot be attributed to modulation of the steady state levels of MR (type I) or GR (type II) mRNA.