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The robust expression of oestrogen receptor β (ER-β) in magnocellular vasopressin neurones has focused attention on the role of this receptor and the gonadal steroids in the regulation of vasopressin secretion. Although the effects of gonadal steroids on vasopressin secretion have been the subject of many studies, there is no consensus in the literature as to their role. Possible reasons for the diverse findings are discussed, including diversity in the types, site and level of expression of steroid receptors across species, gender and physiological conditions. The physiological regulation of expression is of particular interest because ER-β mRNA expression in vasopressin neurones is inversely correlated to the osmotic state of the animal. Chronic hyperosmolality inhibits ER-β mRNA expression in magnocellular vasopressin neurones, while chronic hypo-osmolality enhances expression. This is consistent with an inhibitory role for ER-β because hyperosmolality is a potent stimulus for vasopressin secretion, whereas vasopressin secretion is maximally inhibited by chronic hypo-osmolality. An inhibitory role is also indicated by in vitro experiments demonstrating inhibition of osmotically stimulated vasopressin secretion by oestrogen and testosterone, and ER-β mediated inhibition of NMDA-stimulated vasopressin secretion. The challenge remains to elucidate the mechanism of this inhibition, and to understand its significance for maintenance of whole-body fluid and electrolyte homeostasis.