Direct roles of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)-suppressing protein (FSP) and activin in regulation of ovarian granulosa cell differentiation have been reported recently. The present study further investigated the effects of these peptides on steroidogenesis and inhibin production as well as cAMP generation in cultured granulosa cells from immature, diethylstilbestrol (DES)-treated rats. In the presence of FSH (20 ng/ml) and activin (30 ng/ml), which enhanced FSH-induced aromatase activity, progesterone production and inhibin production, FSP (1-100 ng/ml) reversed the stimulating activities of activin in a dose-dependent manner. In addition, activin reversed the inhibitory effects of FSP on FSH-induced aromatase activity and inhibin production. In the presence of FSH, activin enhanced FSH-stimulated extracellular cAMP accumulation, and FSP caused a reduction in extracellular cAMP. Activin but not FSP also stimulated basal cAMP level. In the presence of forskolin, a potent stimulant of adenyl cyclase activity which stimulated extracellular cAMP, aromatase activity, progesterone production and inhibin production, activin augmented the effect of forskolin on all four parameters, whereas FSP significantly enhanced progesterone production without changing the other three parameters. Our findings suggest that activin action on rat granulosa cells may be mediated via regulation of cAMP generation. The action of FSP and FSH and/or activin-dependent, consistent with either an action as an activin binding protein or by a direct action of FSP on the granulosa cells.