The inhibitory effect of androgens on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in basal and stress conditions in adult male rats is well documented. Major sex-related neuroendocrine changes take place during puberty. There is a robust rise in production and secretion of gonadal steroids, which is thought to underlie numerous neural and behavioural changes brought on after puberty. The present study investigated the effect of the pubertal rise in gonadal steroid levels on the subsequent adult corticosterone profile, particularly the sensitivity of the adult HPA axis to testosterone. Animals were castrated either prepubertally (28 days) or in adulthood (11 weeks) and adult animals were subsequently treated with subcutaneous implants containing either testosterone or cholesterol. Using an automated blood sampling system, blood was collected from each freely moving, conscious rat every 10 min (i) over a 24 h period; (ii) in response to 10 min of noise stress, and (iii) following an immunological challenge with lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Analysis revealed that testosterone treatment did not significantly affect overall corticosterone release over the 24 h period in adult animals castrated before puberty in contrast to animals castrated in adulthood in which testosterone significantly suppressed corticosterone secretion. Following either a noise stress or LPS injection, testosterone treatment did not affect the hypothalamic or adrenal stress response in animals castrated prepubertally. Testosterone significantly suppressed the corticotrophin-releasing hormone and arginine vasopressin mRNA as well as the corticosterone response to LPS in castrated animals that had had their testes intact over puberty. These data provide evidence that puberty is a critical organizational period during which rising levels of gonadal steroids programme the sensitivity of the adult HPA axis to gonadal steroids in adulthood.