The ethyl ester of beta-carboline-3-carboxylic acid has a high affinity for benzodiazepine receptors in the brain. In the rhesus monkey this substance produces an acute behavioral syndrome characterized by dramatic elevations in heart rate, blood pressure, plasma cortisol, and catecholamines. The effects are blocked by benzodiazepines and the specific benzodiazepine receptor antagonist Ro 15-1788. The benzodiazepine receptor may consist of several subsites or functional domains that independently recognize agonist, antagonists, or "active" antagonists such as beta-carboline-3-carboxylic acid ethyl ester. These results suggest that the benzodiazepine receptor is involved in both the affective and physiological manifestations of anxiety, and that the administration of beta-carboxylic acid ethyl ester to monkeys may provide a reliable and reproducible animal model of human anxiety.