To determine if there were organ-specific changes in immune responses or immune-endocrine interaction, we monitored in vitro immune response, cortisol sensitivity and number and affinity of glucocorticoid receptors (GR) in leukocytes from freshwater-adapted juvenile coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) during the physiological changes that prepare them to enter the marine environment. During this period, absolute immune response declined, but splenic leukocytes generated more antibody-producing cells than did cells from anterior kidney. Splenic leukocytes were initially more sensitive to the suppressive effects of cortisol and had fewer GR than leukocytes from the anterior kidney. Leukocytes from the anterior kidney were initially insensitive to cortisol but developed sensitivity at about the same time as the dissociation constant and number of GR increased. In vitro incubation of anterior kidney leukocytes in cortisol altered GR variables when experiments were conducted during March through September but not during November through February. In some years, changes in GR or immune responses were correlated with plasma cortisol titers, but in other years there was no correlation. Thus, the exact relation between cortisol, GR and immune response in anadromous salmonids is unclear and other factors are involved.