Tissue samples from 57 patients with neuroepithelial tumors (25 glioblastomas, 18 anaplastic astrocytomas, and 14 astrocytomas) were analyzed in order to evaluate the presence of estrogen, progesterone, glucocorticoid, and androgen receptors. Glucocorticoid- and androgen-specific binding proteins were present in 38.6% and 21.6% of the cases, respectively. Only a few tumors showed estrogen or progesterone receptors. A correlation was found between grade of anaplasia, patient's sex and age, and presence of glucocorticoid and androgen receptors. The biological role of these two receptors was investigated in 10 primary cell cultures derived from neuroepithelial tumors. For this purpose, dexamethasone and testosterone were added to culture medium at different concentrations (from 50 to 0.016 micrograms/ml). A significant stimulation of the cell growth was observed in four of five glucocorticoid receptor-positive cultures when dexamethasone in doses ranging from 2 to 0.016 microgram/ml was added to the culture. No modulation of the growth was observed in glucocorticoid receptor-negative cultures at the same doses. Higher dexamethasone doses induced a significant decrease of the growth index independently from the glucocorticoid receptor status. All of the cultures tested for testosterone activity were negative for androgen receptors. This hormone induced an inhibition of the growth index at doses ranging from 50 to 0.4 micrograms/ml. The data suggest that neuroepithelial tumors contain specific glucocorticoid and androgen binding proteins. Glucocorticoid receptors modulate the growth of cultured neuroepithelial tumors in the presence of different concentrations of dexamethasone.