The progesterone-induced differentiation of endometrial tissue from proliferative into secretory and decidua seems to be modulated by locally produced hormones and cytokines. Transforming growth factor beta (TGFbeta). a cytokine produced by endometrial cells, has been shown to modulate endometrial cell proliferation in vitro. Our aim was to evaluate the effects of medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) and the influence of menstrual cycle on the expression of TGFbeta1 and TGFbeta3 in human endometrium in vivo. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 46 healthy women with regular menstrual cycles received either MPA (10 mg/day) or placebo during 10 days. Endometrial and blood samples were collected 8-12 hours after the last MPA or placebo administration. Patients were classified into three groups according to biopsy dating and treatment: proliferative [tissue]/placebo, secretory [tissue]/placebo and secretory [tissue]/MPA. The immunohistochemical distribution of TGFbeta1 and TGFbeta1 mRNA was similar in all groups. Immunoreactive TGFbeta3 was present in the epithelium in 9.1% of proliferative samples, in 41.2% of secretory/placebo samples and in 87.5% of secretory/MPA samples (p=0.001). In the stroma, the frequency of TGFbeta3 staining was markedly increased after treatment with MPA (62.5%) compared to placebo (proliferative: 9.1%; secretory: 5.9%; p=0.005). The levels of TGFbeta3 mRNA increased during the secretory phase and were higher in the MPA-treated group, being directly correlated with morphological endometrial differentiation. It is concluded that MPA administration to healthy women increased TGFbeta3 but did not change TGFbeta1 gene and protein expression in the endometrium. This finding suggests that TGFbeta3 may be a local factor mediating progesterone- and progestogen-induced endometrial differentiation.