The polypeptide diazepam-binding inhibitor (DBI) has been previously shown to stimulate testicular Leydig, adrenocortical, and glial-cell mitochondrial steroidogenesis in vitro. To assess the in situ role of DBI in trophic hormone-stimulated steroidogenesis, we suppressed DBI levels in the hormone-responsive MA-10 Leydig tumor cells, using a cholesterol-linked phosphorothioate oligodeoxynucleotide (Chol-odN) antisense to DBI. Treating MA-10 cells with Chol-odN antisense to DBI resulted in a dose-dependent reduction of DBI levels (ED50 = 1 microM). In contrast, Chol-odN sense to DBI did not affect its expression. Saturating amounts of human choriogonadotropin (hCG) increased MA-10 progesterone production by 150-fold. Addition of increased concentrations of Chol-odNs sense to DBI or of a nonrelated sequence did not reduce the MA-10 response to hCG. However, in the presence of Chol-odN antisense to DBI that could reduce DBI levels, MA-10 cells lost their ability to respond to hCG (ED50 = 1 microM). In these studies the hCG-stimulated cAMP levels and cytochrome P450 side-chain cleavage activity, as measured by metabolism of 22(R)-hydroxycholesterol, were not affected by the Chol-odNs used. These observations provide unequivocal evidence that DBI plays a vital role in the acute stimulation of steroidogenesis by trophic hormones.