Estrogen stimulates morphological and functional (i.e. steroidogenesis) differentiation of the primate placental trophoblast, and with advancing gestation there is an increase in estrogen and placental chorionic somatomammotropin (CS) mRNA and protein levels. To examine whether CS formation is regulated by estrogen, placental villous trophoblast CS was determined in baboons in which estradiol levels in uterine vein were increased 2- to 3-fold (P < 0.01) on d 60 of pregnancy (term = 184 d) by administration of aromatizable androstenedione on d 30-59 or estradiol benzoate on d 45-59 of gestation. Androstenedione and estradiol treatment resulted in a 75% decrease (P < 0.01) in placental whole villous CS-3 mRNA and CS protein levels, determined by Northern and Western blot analysis, on d 60, and a corresponding decrease in syncytiotrophoblast CS protein and maternal serum CS levels. In contrast, placental villous Delta(5)-3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, 11 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-2, and P-450 aromatase protein levels were unaltered by androstenedione or estradiol treatment. Collectively, these results suggest that, in elevated levels, estrogen suppressed CS formation by villous syncytiotrophoblast during the first one third of primate pregnancy. Therefore, estrogen has very different and specific actions on steroid and peptide hormone biosynthesis within the placental trophoblast, which we propose are important in regulating placental function and promoting fetal-placental development in the primate.