The effect of inhibition of estrogen synthesis on ovulation in rat ovaries perfused in vitro with medium without phenol red was examined. The addition of luteinizing hormone (LH, 0.1 microgram/mL) plus 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine (IBMX, 0.2 mM) to phenol red-free perfusion medium (M199 + 4% bovine serum albumin) induced ovulation. The number of ovulations was similar to that found in medium containing phenol red. There was a similar increase in estradiol (1, 3, 5 (10)-estratriene-3, 17 beta-diol) levels in the medium in both groups. The addition of 4-hydroxy-4-androstene-3, 17-dione (4-OH-A, 5 microM) to phenol red-free medium blocked the increase in estradiol levels induced by LH + IBMX, but did not prevent ovulation. There was no significant difference in the number of ovulations in the three groups. In conclusion, phenol red in the perfusion medium does not influence ovulation induced by LH + IBMX. Furthermore, an increase in estrogen is not required during the immediate preovulatory period for ovulation to occur.