The effect of caffeine on meiotic maturation in cultured hamster oocytes was investigated. Meiotic status was scored from chromatin spreads of oocytes previously exposed to caffeine (0, 0.00017, 0.0017, 0.017, 0.17, 1.7, 2.4, 5.1, and 10.2 mM) for up to 20 h. While concentrations of caffeine less than 0.017 mM failed to affect significantly the onset of meiotic resumption, 0.0017 mM caffeine significantly decreased the proportion of oocytes progressing normally to telophase I-metaphase II, and concomitantly increased the proportion of both diploid MII and aneuploid oocytes. In addition, 0.17 to 10.2 mM caffeine induced a dose-dependent increase in the proportion of meiotically arrested oocytes, with less than 5% oocytes progressing normally through to the final stages of meiotic maturation at 10.2 mM caffeine. Taken together, these data show that caffeine at concentrations as low as 0.0017 to 0.017 mM interfere with progression of meiotic maturation, and that concentrations higher than 0.017 mM delay initiation of this process. Since caffeine peaks at 0.017 mM in the plasma of women following a cup of brewed coffee, we conclude that caffeine-induced perturbations of oocyte meiotic maturation may be responsible, at least in part, for the recently revealed correlation between caffeine intake and reduced fertility in women.