In the present study, it was investigated whether undernutrition affected the binding capacity, immunoreactivity and mRNA expression for uterine oestrogen and progesterone receptors ( ER and PR, respectively) in sheep, as well as whether the responses were associated with changes in plasma concentrations of progesterone ( P-4), oestradiol ( E-2), glucose, fatty acids, insulin, leptin and insulin-like growth factor ( IGF)-I during the oestrous cycle. Twenty ewes were fed either 1.5 ( C) or 0.5 ( L) times their maintenance requirements and were killed on Day 5 or 14 of the cycle ( Day 0 = oestrus). Compared with Group C, Group L had higher concentrations of non-esterified fatty acids and lower concentrations of insulin, leptin and IGF-I. Group L also had higher plasma concentrations of P4 during the final days of the luteal phase. At oestrus in both treatment groups, there were peaks in the concentrations of glucose, insulin and IGF-I. For ER and PR, transcript expression, binding capacity and immunoreactivity were higher on Day 5 than on Day 14 of the cycle. The binding capacities for ER and PR were lower in Group L than in Group C on Day 5. Group C showed more immunoreactive staining for ER than did Group L in two of five cell types, whereas no effect of treatment was observed for PR immunoreactivity. There was more PR mRNA in the uterine horn contralateral to the corpus luteum in Group C than in Group L ewes. We conclude that undernutrition impairs steroid receptor expression and binding capacity. This may alter the uterine environment and help explain the reductions in embryo survival.