The main purpose of the study was to identify the principal gonadal steroids synthesized by male and female sea lampreys, Petromyzon marinus. To achieve this, we used high performance liquid chromatography to separate the steroids in the serum of sexually mature animals, and to separate the steroids produced by gonadal tissue incubated in the presence of radiolabelled precursor steroids, as a means of identifying the major steroidogenic pathways. We were unable to detect evidence of the 'classical' steroids, such as 17beta-estradiol (E(2)) or testosterone (T) in the serum of either male or female lampreys. Instead, the principal chromatographic peaks contained very polar compounds that had elution times consistent with 15alpha-hydroxylated estrogens and androgens, and there were sex-specific differences in the chemical nature and the quantity of these compounds. Testis fragments or ovarian follicles co-incubated with tritium-labelled pregnenolone ([3H]P(5)), 17-hydroxyprogesterone ([3H]17OHP(4)), or androstenedione ([3H]A(4)), provided additional confirmation that the gonads synthesize a range of very polar steroids, and the metabolites found were consistent with the presence of a 15alpha-hydroxylated (15alphaOH) metabolic pathway common to testis and ovary. For ovarian tissue, the major 'end product' metabolites from all three precursors were 15alphaOH-estrogens, and for testis tissue 15alpha-hydroxyprogesterone (15alphaOHP(4)) and 15alpha-hydroxytestosterone (15alphaOHT) and small amounts of 15alphaOH estrogen. Small amounts of E(2) were also produced by both ovarian (all substrates) and testicular tissue (some substrates). Although it was assumed that the E(2) was synthesized via the aromatization of T, [3H]T was not found as an intermediate metabolite. The study suggests that the principal gonadal steroids in sea lamprey are 15alpha-OH compounds, and that only small amounts of E(2) or T are synthesized by the gonads at this stage of reproductive development. There was no direct evidence of progesterone (P(4)) synthesis from [3H]P(5), although the metabolites synthesized by both testis and ovary were indicative of a metabolic pathway that involved P(4) as an intermediate.