Progestagenic sex steroid hormones play critical roles in reproduction across vertebrates, including teleost fish. To further our understanding of how progesterone modulates testis functions in fish, we set out to clone a progesterone receptor (pgr) cDNA exhibiting nuclear hormone receptor features from zebrafish testis. The open reading frame of pgr consists of 1854 bp, coding for a 617-amino acid-long protein showing the highest similarity with other piscine Pgr proteins. Functional characterization of the receptor expressed in mammalian cells revealed that zebrafish Pgr exhibited progesterone-specific, dose-dependent induction of reporter gene expression, with 17 alpha,20 beta-dihydroxy-4-pregnen-3-one (DHP), a typical piscine progesterone, showing the highest potency. Expression of pgr mRNA: 1) appeared in embryos at 8 h after fertilization; 2) was significantly higher in developing ovary than in early transforming testis at 4 wk of age but vice versa in young adults at 12 wk of age, and thus resembling the expression pattern of the germ cell marker piwil1; and, 3) was restricted to Leydig and Sertoli cells in adult testis. Zebrafish testicular explants released DHP concentration dependently in response to high concentrations of recombinant zebrafish gonadotropins. In addition, DHP stimulated 11-ketotestosterone release from zebrafish testicular explants, but only in the presence of its immediate precursor, 11 beta-hydroxytestosterone. This stimulatory activity was blocked by a Pgr antagonist (RU486), suggesting that 11 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase activity was stimulated by DHP via Pgr. Our data suggest that DHP contributes to the regulation of Leydig cell steroidogenesis, and potentially--via Sertoli cells--also to germ cell differentiation in zebrafish testis.