The role of prolactin (PRL) in the male is not fully defined. The aim of this study was to investigate the function and mechanism of PRL on the production of corticosterone by zona fasciculata-reticularis (ZFR) cells in vitro. The ZFR cells were obtained from male rats under normal, hyperprolactinemic, or hypoprolactinemic situation. PRL stimulated the corticosterone release in a dose-dependent pattern in the ZFR cells from normal male rats. The cellular adenosine 3'-5'-cyclic monophosphate (cAMP) concentration positively correlated with PRL concentration in the presence of forskolin or 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine (IBMX). PRL enhanced the stimulatory effects of cAMP mimetic reagents, i.e., forskolin, 8-bromo-adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (8-Br-cAMP), and IBMX on the release of corticosterone. The adenylate cyclase inhibitor (SQ22536) inhibited the corticosterone release in spite of presence of PRL. Nifedipine (L-type calcium channel blocker) did not inhibit corticosterone release. The hyperprolactinemic condition was actualized by transplantation of donor rat anterior pituitary glands (APs) under kidney capsule. By comparison with the cerebral cortex (CX)-grafted group, AP-graft resulted in an increased release of corticosterone, 3beta-hydroxysteriod dehydrogenase (HSD) activity and cAMP production by ZFR cells. Acute hypoprolactinemic status was induced by bromocriptine for 2 days. The results showed the productions of corticosterone were lower in hypoprolactinemic group than in control group, which were persistent along with different ACTH concentrations. These results suggest that PRL increase the release of corticosterone by ZFR cells via cAMP cascades and 3beta-HSD activity.