2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) is a widespread environmental pollutant and causes adverse effects on female reproduction when administered to rats. Our aims were to study effects of gestational and lactational exposure to TCDD on ovarian steroidogenesis and steroidogenic enzyme expression of offspring on postnatal day (PND) 14 in the rat and sensitivity of enzymatically isolated ovarian follicles to TCDD in vitro. Synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES) was used as a treatment control. Serum progesterone (P4) level in offspring increased significantly on PND 14 in the TCDD (1 microg/kg)-exposed group while body weight, FSH and E2 levels were not changed. In ovarian follicles of offspring on PND 14 in the TCDD-exposed groups, protein expression of cytochrome P-450 aromatase, cytochrome P-450 cholesterol side-chain cleavage, steroidogenic acute regulatory protein, 3beta-hydroxy-steroid-dehydrogenase/Delta(5)-Delta(4) isomerase type 1, or P4 receptor was not affected. TCDD decreased E2 and P4 production in ex vivo follicle culture. DES at a dose level of 0.1mg/kg was dystocic while a dose 0.02 mg/kg increased ovarian ex vivo E2 and testosterone production without affecting P450arom activity indicating stimulation of early steps of steroidogenic pathway. Data suggests that TCDD has multiple targets in ovarian steroidogenesis, but the inhibitory action represented as decreased follicular steroid hormone production ex vivo is not apparent at the ovarian protein expression. Furthermore, TCDD had no direct effect on immature rat ovarian steroidogenesis in vitro suggesting that the follicle culture method is not a sensitive method to study the mechanisms of TCDD action.