Inhibin production has been demonstrated in malignant epithelial ovarian tumours, but secretion of inhibins by benign cystadenoma has not yet been reported. The present study evaluated the concentrations of inhibin A and inhibin B and the relationship with oestradiol and nitric oxide metabolites in fluid collected from benign ovarian serous cystadenomas (n = 15). In addition, follicular fluid samples (n = 14) from women with regular ovulatory cycles undergoing ovarian stimulation for IVF were studied as a reference group. High concentrations of inhibin A (median = 89.3 ng/ml) and inhibin B (median = 116.1 ng/ml) were found in the cystic fluid of ovarian serous cystadenomas. These inhibin concentrations were even higher than in follicular fluid of stimulated follicles (inhibins A and B = 41.2 and 46.8 ng/ml respectively; P: < 0.001), whereas oestradiol was approximately 18-fold lower in cystic fluid than in follicular fluid (median = 34 versus 622 pg/ml, P: < 0.001). In ovarian cysts, the concentrations of inhibin A and oestradiol were inversely correlated (r = -0.678, P: = 0.008). Cystic fluid samples containing the highest concentrations of NO(2)(-)/NO(3)(-) (45-60 micromol/l) had lower inhibin A and higher oestradiol concentrations than those samples containing lower concentrations (10-25 micromol/l) of NO(2)(-)/NO(3)(-). It is concluded that high amounts of dimeric inhibins are present in ovarian serous cystadenoma. The source of inhibins and the determinants of the inverse association of inhibin A with oestradiol and nitric oxide remain to be determined.