2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) and 2,3,4,7,8-pentachlorodibenzofuran (PCDF) are widespread environmental pollutants. TCDD is well known for its adverse effects on female reproduction when administered acutely to immature or adult rats. It is also known that fetal/neonatal exposure to this compound alters reproductive parameters. It is unknown whether exposure to PCDF causes similar adverse effects in offspring. The objectives of the study were to investigate the effects of in utero and lactational (IUL) exposure to TCDD and PCDF on subsequent growth, estrous cycles, and ovulation. Additionally a gonadotropin-primed immature rat model was used to investigate possible direct effects on the ovary after IUL exposure to TCDD (2.5 microg/kg) by evaluating 1) ovarian morphometrics and 2) serum estradiol concentrations. Body weights were reduced in animals with IUL exposure to TCDD and PCDF relative to those in controls at 10 days of age (P < 0.05 for each), and this difference was maintained until termination of the experiment at 125-165 days of age (P < 0.05). Exposure to TCDD or PCDF also disrupted regular estrous cycles and inhibited ovulation rate. On Day 23 (before eCG stimulation), ovaries from animals exposed to TCDD contained the same number of primordial, primary, secondary, preantral, and antral follicles as ovaries from control animals. On Day 25 (48 h after eCG stimulation), ovaries from TCDD-exposed rats had significantly fewer large preovulatory follicles when compared with ovaries from controls. The numbers of smaller follicles (both antral and small antral) were not different. Serum estradiol was significantly lower in TCDD-exposed animals 48 h after eCG stimulation.