The objective of this study was to determine whether estradiol has a direct effect on progesterone secretion by the rabbit corpus luteum. Empty or estradiol-filled Silastic capsules were implanted sc into pseudopregnant rabbits (day 0). Ten days later (day 10), peripheral blood was obtained via the marginal ear vein, and Silastic capsules were removed. Twenty- four hours after capsule removal (day 11), blood samples were obtained and ovaries removed for in vitro perfusion. The artery and vein of each ovary were individually cannulated, and ovaries were perfused in vitro for 6 h. Mean progesterone secretion rates were determined from perfusate samples taken every 30 min. On day 10, serum progesterone concentrations were similar in control and estradiol-treated animals. On day 11, 24 h after withdrawal of Silastic capsules, serum progesterone concentra-tion in the estradiol-treated rabbits decreased significantly com-pared to controls. The withdrawal of estradiol also significantly reduced the secretion of progesterone by in vitro perfused ovaries in estradiol-withdrawn rabbits compared to empty capsule con-trols. Addition of estradiol or 25-hydroxycholesterol (25-OH) to the perfusion medium significantly increased progesterone se-cretion by ovaries from estradiol-withdrawn rabbits but not to control values. In contrast, a combination of estradiol plus 25- OH restored progesterone secretion to control levels. Although estradiol together with 25-OH stimulated progesterone secretion 24 h after estradiol withdrawal, progesterone secretion in vitro was unaffected 48 h after capsule removal, whereas pregnenolone stimulated secretion 5-fold. These results demonstrate that estradiol has a direct and acute stimulatory effect on progesterone secretion by the rabbit corpus luteum.