Stimulation of rat epididymal epithelial cell proliferation by melatonin was demonstrated by thymidine incorporation and flow cytometric analyses. The stimulatory effect of melatonin was dependent on the hormone concentration and the duration of cell exposure to the hormone. Maximal stimulation of [3H]thymidine incorporation into epididymal epithelial cells by melatonin was observed at 1 x 10(-9) M 5alpha-dihydrotestosterone in medium, while lower or higher concentrations of androgen attenuated the stimulatory effect of melatonin. Interestingly, a nuclear melatonin receptor agonist (1-[3-allyl-4-oxothiazolidine-2-ylidene]-4-methyl-thiosemi-carb azone, CGP 52608) induced opposite effect on epithelial cell proliferation to that produced by melatonin. Our data suggest that melatonin-induced stimulation of rat epididymal epithelial cell proliferation is not likely to be mediated by nuclear receptor. Furthermore, sequential changes of cell cycle distribution with melatonin treatment also supports a stimulatory action of melatonin on epididymal epithelial cell proliferation.