Numerous studies have examined the effects of cytoskeletal disruption on steroidogenesis; while some report an inhibition, other studies show a stimulation of steroid hormone production. In the present study, the possibility of a biphasic effect of cytoskeletal inhibitors on steroidogenesis was examined. Luteal tissue from day 12 pregnant rats was incubated for either 3.5 h (short-term) or 12.5 h (long-term) with cytochalasin D or colchicine at 10(-4) M in Medium 199 (medium). Controls were incubated in medium alone. After the incubation, the tissues were separated from the medium, and either processed for electron microscopy, or weighed and snap-frozen for subsequent homogenization and steroid hormone measurements. Progesterone, testosterone, and 17 beta-estradiol levels in the medium were measured by radioimmunoassay. After the short-term incubation, progesterone release decreased with cytochalasin D treatment, while cells became more rounded in shape with a loss of microfilaments. Upon long-term incubation, progesterone release increased and cell contact lessened. Colchicine had no effect at either incubation time, and estradiol and testosterone production remained unchanged throughout the experiments. These results demonstrate that cytochalasin D has a biphasic effect on luteal progesterone release in the rat and provides an explanation for the dichotomy of results thus far reported. In addition, the effects of cytochalasin D on rat luteal progesterone production appear to be the result of changes in cell shape or cell-to-cell contact.