The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of sub-acute exposure to inhaled benzo(a)pyrene (BaP) on testicular steroidogenesis and epididymal function in Fisher 344 rats. Animals were assigned randomly to two control groups and one experimental group for each exposure regimen. Treatment consisted of sub-acute exposure of rats via inhalation to 25, 75, and 100 microg BaP/m(3), 4 h daily for 10 days. Control animals were either exposed to carbon black (CB; sham) to control for inert BaP carrier or they remained unexposed (UNC). Blood samples were collected immediately after the cessation of exposures (time 0) and at 24, 48, and 72 h post-cessation of exposure, to assess the effect of bioavailable BaP on systemic testosterone and luteinizing hormone (LH) concentrations by radioimmunoassay (RIA). Progressive sperm motility of stored sperm (cauda epididymal sperm) was determined microscopically, while density of stored sperm was determined by hemocytometric counting. Progressive motility of stored sperm was reduced in rats exposed to 75 and 100 microg BaP/m(3) compared with their counterparts that were exposed to 25 microg BaP/m(3) or controls. Plasma testosterone concentrations declined as a result of exposure of rats to 75 microg BaP/m(3) from 0 to 48 h post-termination of exposure compared with controls (P<0.05; treatment x time interaction). This decrease was followed subsequently by a compensatory increase in the plasma concentrations of this steroid at 72 h post-cessation of exposures compared with previous time periods and controls (P<0.05). Increases in the mean plasma LH concentrations were observed in rats exposed to 75 microg BaP/m(3) compared with controls, throughout the time periods studied (P<0.05; treatment x time interaction). These data suggest that sub-acute exposure to inhaled BaP contributes to reduced testosterone concentrations and consequently impaired epididymal function of exposed animals.