Steroidal (cyproterone acetate) and non-steroidal (RU23908 and hydroxyflutamide) antiandrogens are able to block testosterone-induced increases in nuclear androgen receptor (AR) in the prostate of 1-day orchidectomized rats, but when given alone, RU23908 and hydroxyflutamide increase nuclear AR (RU23908 greater than hydroxyflutamide) in the same animal model. The increases in nuclear AR induced by antiandrogen alone or with testosterone alone are blocked by cycloheximide 1 h after administration, suggesting that androgen or antiandrogens induce de novo AR synthesis. Concomitant to nuclear AR accumulation, testosterone is able to induce depletion of cytosol and microsomal AR. Blockade of testosterone-induced depletion of microsomal AR, but not of cytosol AR, occurs in the presence of antiandrogens. Cyproterone acetate has a higher relative binding affinity (RBA) for microsomal AR and cytosol AR than RU23908 or hydroxyflutamide. This phenomenon is in good agreement with the degree of inhibition by these compounds of the association rate of androgen for the microsomal AR. This correlation between RBA and inhibition of the initial rate of hormone binding to the receptor is not found for cytosol AR. The results show that antiandrogens are not 'pure' antagonists of androgen action and they are potent agonists in the absence of testosterone. Furthermore, testosterone alone or antiandrogens per se regulate AR levels acutely by protein-synthesis dependent mechanisms of action, in rat ventral prostate.