The prothoracic glands of early last (fifth) instar larvae of the silkworm are inactive with regard to ecdysteroidogenesis and unresponsive to prothoracicotropic hormone (PTTH) [J. Insect Physiol. 31 (1985) 455]. In an attempt to elucidate the hormonal mechanisms that cause the inactivity, we compared the effects of PTTH, dibutyryl cyclic AMP (dbcAMP), a cAMP phosphodiesterase inhibitor (IBMX), juvenile hormone analogue (JHA) and 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E) on secretory activity of the third, fourth and fifth instar glands. Among the factors examined, feedback inhibition by 20E was indicated to be the most likely factor. Inhibition was moderate in the third and early fourth instars while 20E strongly inhibited the glands of middle fourth instar larvae. The inhibitory effect of 20E was reduced by removal of the brain and corpora allata. Once the glands were suppressed by 20E to the degree of exhibiting neither secretory activity nor responsiveness to PTTH, dbcAMP or IBMX did not elicit ecdysone secretion at all. Thus the feedback inhibition may shut down ecdysteroidogenesis although it is obscure whether it affects the intracellular transductory cascade from the PTTH receptor through cAMP. Taken together, this evidence suggests that inactivity of the gland in the early fifth instar is brought about by feedback inhibition of the glands by 20E occurring in the late fourth instar, and that this inactivity is maintained by the juvenile hormone found in the early fifth instar.