The effects of amitriptyline, lithium, and electroconvulsive shock on cerebral permeability and blood flow were tested. These three treatments share in common (i) the ability to influence the functional activity of central adrenergic neurons by way of effects on the release, reuptake, or metabolism of norepinephrine and (ii) therapeutic efficacy in mood disturbances. Under control conditions, cerebral permeability increases linealy with increasing arterial partial pressure of carbon dioxide and hence cerebral blood flow. All three treatments altered this relationship in a manner consistent with their adrenergic effects. Amitriptyline potentiated this increase in cerebral permeability whereas lithium and electroconvulsive shock blunted this phenomenon. These results support the hypothesis that one function of central adrenergic neurons is regulation of the blood-brain barrier and raise the possibility that a related effect may underlie the clinical usefulness of such treatment.