Estradiol secreted by the maturing follicle is the primary trigger for the surge of gonadotropins leading to ovulation. Progesterone has stimulatory or inhibitory actions on this estrogen-induced gonadotropin surge depending upon the time and dose of administration. The administration of progesterone to immature ovariectomized rats primed with a low dose of estradiol induced a well-defined LH surge and prolonged FSH release, a pattern similar to the proestrus surge of gonadotropins. A physiological role of progesterone is indicated in the normal ovulatory process because a single injection of the progesterone antagonist RU 486 on the day of proestrus in the adult cycling rat and on the day of the gonadotropin surge in the pregnant mare's serum gonadotropin stimulated immature rat resulted in an attenuated gonadotropin surge and reduced the number of ova per ovulating rat. Progesterone administration brought about a rapid LHRH release and an decrease in nuclear accumulation of estrogen receptors in the anterior pituitary but not the hypothalamus. The progesterone effect was demonstrated in vitro in the uterus and anterior pituitary and appears to be confined to occupied estradiol nuclear receptors. In in vivo experiments the progesterone effect on estradiol nuclear receptors appeared to be of approximately 2-h duration, which coincided with the time period of progesterone nuclear receptor accumulation after a single injection of progesterone. During the period of progesterone effects on nuclear estrogen receptors, the ability of estrogens to induce progesterone receptors was impaired. Based on the above results, a model is proposed for the stimulatory and inhibitory effects of progesterone on gonadotropin secretion.