The orphan nuclear receptor steroidogenic factor-1 (SF-1) induces the expression of Müllerian inhibiting substance (MIS) and many steroidogenic genes, including aromatase P450 (P450arom). Dosage-sensitive sex reversal adrenal hypoplasia congenita critical region on the X chromosome gene 1 (DAX-1) inhibits SF-1-mediated induction of MIS and other steroidogenic genes, whereas Wilms' tumor suppressor gene (WT1) augments SF-1-mediated MIS expression. The effects of WT1 on steroidogenesis or P450arom expression have not been explored to date. In human endometriotic stromal cells, extremely high levels of P450arom mRNA and enzyme activity are present. Prostaglandin E(2) stimulates cAMP formation, SF-1 binding activity, P450arom mRNA levels, and estrogen synthesis in endometriotic stromal cells. Stromal cells of eutopic endometrium from disease-free women, on other hand, do not contain readily detectable levels of P450arom mRNA. Thus, we evaluated herein the possible roles of WT1 and DAX-1 in cAMP/SF-1-mediated regulation of P450arom expression in endometriotic and endometrial stromal cells. We also determined the cellular distribution and levels of these transcription factors in pathological endometriotic vs. normal eutopic endometrial tissues by immunohistochemistry to understand their in vivo roles. In vitro transcriptional regulation studies showed that both WT1 and DAX-1 inhibited cAMP and/or SF-1-induced P450arom promoter activity in a dose-dependent fashion in cultured human endometriotic and endometrial stromal cells. Site-directed disruption of the SF-1 binding site (-136/-124 bp) in the P450arom promoter abolished basal or cAMP/SF-1-induced promoter activity in the presence or absence of WT1 or DAX-1. Immunohistochemistry and H-scoring showed that DAX-1 was ubiquitously present in epithelial and stromal cells of both tissues. WT1, on the other hand, was preferentially expressed in stromal (vs. epithelial) cells. Moreover, WT1 levels in endometriotic stromal cells are significantly down-regulated compared with normal endometrial stromal cells. In summary, WT1 or DAX-1 inhibits cAMP-SF-1 pathway-dependent P450arom expression in cultured human endometriotic and endometrial stromal cells. In vivo down-regulation of WT1 in endometriotic stromal cells (vs. normal endometrial stromal cells) may in part be responsible for aberrantly increased P450arom expression and estrogen formation in this pathological tissue.