Abstract c-Fos and c-jun are immediate early proto-oncogenes encoding proteins for the heterodimer AP-1, a DNA binding complex which regulates gene transcription. In order to investigate the presence and potential gonadotropin regulation of mRNAs for these proto-oncogenes in rat granulosa cells, we used Northern blotting of total RNA from cultured cells. Granulosa cells obtained from diethylstilbestrol (DES)-treated weanling rats were challenged with follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), dibutyryl cAMP ((Bu) 2cAMP) or tetradecanoyl-13-phorbol acetate (TPA) either 2.5 h after cell isolation (day 0) or following a 2-day pretreatment with FSH (day 2). Freshly isolated cells treated with FSH exhibited 4-fold and 3-fold increases in c-fos and c-jun mRNAs, respectively, within 30 min. Two hours after FSH treatment, both c-fos and c-jun message levels diminished to near control levels. Granulosa cells pretreated for 2 days with FSH, then re-challenged with FSH, showed similar increases in both c-fos and c-jun messages. These effects were dose- and time-dependent on both day 0 and day 2. Likewise, (Bu) 2cAMP also increased c-fos and c-jun mRNAs in a time- and dose-dependent manner on both day 0 and day 2. In contrast, LH or hCG minimally increased c-fos and c-jun mRNAs on day 0, but on day 2, both hormones markedly increased message levels in a manner similar to that seen with FSH. Analogous effects were observed with TPA which minimally stimulated c-fos and c-jun mRNAs on day 0, but markedly increased these messages on day 2. These studies demonstrate that c-fos and c-jun mRNAs can be induced in cultured rat granulosa cells by acute gonadotropin, (Bu) 2cAMP or phorbol ester treatment and suggest that these immediate early proto-oncogenes may play a role in granulosa cell function.