The interaction between the stress axis and endogenous opioid systems has gained substantial attention, because it is increasingly recognized that stress alters individual sensitivity to opiates. One site at which opiates and stress substrates may interact to have global effects on behavior is within the locus coeruleus (LC). We have previously described interactions of several opioid peptides [e.g., proopiomelanocortin, enkephalin (ENK)] with the stress-related peptide corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) in the LC. To examine further the interactions among dynorphin (DYN), ENK, and CRF in the LC, sections were processed for detection of DYN and CRF or DYN and ENK in rat brain. DYN- and CRF-containing axon terminals overlapped noradrenergic dendrites in this region. Dual immunoelectron microscopy showed coexistence of DYN and CRF; 35% of axon terminals containing DYN were also immunoreactive for CRF. In contrast, few axon terminals contained both DYN and ENK. A potential DYN/CRF afferent is the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA). Dual in situ hybridization showed that, in CeA neurons, 31% of DYN mRNA-positive cells colocalized with CRF mRNA, whereas 53% of CRF mRNA-containing cells colocalized with DYN mRNA. Finally, to determine whether limbic DYN afferents target the LC, the CeA was electrolytically lesioned. Light-level densitometry of DYN labeling in the LC showed a significant decrease in immunoreactivity on the side of the lesion. Taken together, these data indicate that DYN- and CRF-labeled axon terminals, most likely arising from amygdalar sources, are positioned dually to affect LC function, whereas DYN and ENK function in parallel.