In the viviparous guppy, fertilization and gestation are intrafollicular. Fully developed embryos are ovulated at the end of gestation just prior to parturition. The metabolism in vitro of various radiolabeled steroid precursors by isolated ovarian follicles at various stages of the reproductive cycle and extrafollicular (EF) tissue of the guppy was investigated. While estradiol-17 beta was one of the end products of metabolism in vitellogenic follicles, 17 alpha, 20 beta-P and several 5-reduced metabolites were synthesized by postvitellogenic follicles. The yield of 17 alpha, 20 beta-P, however, was much lower than some 5 beta-reduced metabolites synthesized by postvitellogenic follicles. Gestation stage follicles rapidly converted the precursors into 5-reduced and polar 7-hydroxylated steroids, and their glucuronides. Although postpartum follicles showed very poor potential for steroid metabolism, they synthesized estradiol-17 beta from testosterone. These results demonstrate distinct changes occurring in the steroidogenic potential of the follicles during the reproductive cycle. Unlike in other viviparous vertebrates, no particular steroid seems to be involved in maintaining gestation in the guppy; all the steroid precursors are converted into highly polar metabolites and their conjugates during gestation, thereby facilitating their excretion. The EF ovarian tissue also synthesized 7-hydroxylated steroids and their glucuronides, providing evidence for the first time that the teleost ovarian EF tissue plays a role in steroidogenesis. The possible physiological significance of the synthesis of the novel polar steroids by the follicles and the EF tissue is discussed.