3,3'4,4',5-Pentachlorobiphenyl (PCB 126) and 2,2',4,4',5,5'-hexachlorobiphenyl (PCB 153) were administered to adult male rats in order to identify sensitive indicators of endocrine disruption. We tested the hypothesis that PCB exposure modifies follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) pituitary isoforms, as well as the pituitary and serum concentrations of FSH, luteinizing hormone (LH), growth hormone, prolactin, and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Effects on serum levels of thyroxine (T4) and testosterone (T), and prostate androgen receptor content, were also tested. In one experiment, 5 groups of 8 rats each received two i.p. injections, one day apart, of either corn oil or 6.25, 25, 100 or 400 micrograms/kg/day of PCB 126. Decreases (p < 0.05) in the serum concentrations of T4 and LH started at doses of 25 and 100 micrograms/kg/day, respectively. Serum FSH concentrations were reduced (p = 0.07) in the highest dose group. In contrast, pituitary content of FSH and LH increased with PCB-126 doses (p = 0.004, p = 0.002, respectively). Despite changes in reproductive hormones, PCB-126 had no effect on the androgen receptor content of the prostate. The effect of PCB-126 was tested in the hemicastrated rat, and suggested adverse effects on testosterone secretion. To test the effects of PCB exposure on FSH pituitary isoforms, 4 groups of 10 male rats received two i.p. injections, one day apart, of either corn oil, PCB 153 (25 mg/kg/day), estradiol-17 beta (E2; 20 micrograms/kg/day), or PCB 126 (0.1 mg/kg/day). Serum T4 levels were higher (p < 0.01) in the E2 and PCB 153 groups, and slightly reduced in the PCB 126-treated groups, compared to controls. Simultaneous purification of pituitary FSH and TSH isoforms was performed by HPLC, using two chromatofocusing columns in series. In contrast to TSH isoforms, the distribution of FSH isoforms over the chromatography run differed slightly between treatment groups; the amounts of FSH isoform eluted during the pH gradient were lower (p < 0.05) in E2 and PCB 153-treated rats than in control or PCB 126-treated rats. The similarity between the effects of E2 and PCB 153 on T4 and FSH isoforms supports the contention that PCB 153 possesses estrogenic properties. Serum LH and T4 concentrations were the most sensitive and practical endocrine indicators of PCBs 126 and 153 exposure in male rats.