Substrate turnover rates by cytochrome P-450scc were measured in mitochondria isolated from corpora lutea and granulosa cells of follicles. Hydroxycholesterol substrates were added to the mitochondria to test the degree of saturation of the cytochrome with endogenous cholesterol during pregnenolone synthesis. 25-Hydroxycholesterol proved unsuitable for this since it was converted into pregnenolone with a maximum velocity of only 25% of that for cholesterol. 20 alpha-Hydroxycholesterol was found to be suitable providing correction was made for the one less hydroxylation required to convert this substrate into pregnenolone, compared to cholesterol. Mitochondria isolated from large follicles and corpora lutea displayed biphasic time courses for pregnenolone synthesis from endogenous cholesterol with a rapid phase lasting for 2-4 min and a slow phase which was linear for at least 30 min. Only a single rapid phase was observed for these mitochondria in the presence of 20 alpha-hydroxycholesterol. From the degree of stimulation of the substrate turnover rate by this steroid, it was concluded that the endogenous cholesterol concentration was saturating during the fast phase for large follicles but subsaturating in luteal mitochondria. Time courses for pregnenolone synthesis by mitochondria isolated from granulosa cells of small and medium follicles were linear for 30 min and gave a substrate turnover rate of 16-18 mol of steroid/min/mol of cytochrome P-450scc, similar to the turnover rates under saturating substrate conditions determined for large follicles and corpora lutea. The substrate turnover rate for cytochrome P-450scc in medium follicles was not increased by the addition of 20 alpha-hydroxycholesterol, indicating that the cholesterol concentration in the steroidogenic pool of these mitochondria was saturating and remained so over the 30-min duration of the incubation. It is therefore unlikely that gonadotropin stimulation of granulosa cells of small to medium follicles could acutely regulate pregnenolone synthesis by increasing the rate of transfer of cholesterol into a steroidogenic pool. This study shows that as the cytochrome P-450scc concentration in porcine ovarian mitochondria increases during follicular growth and luteinization there is a decrease in the fractional saturation of the cytochrome with cholesterol.