Aromatization of testosterone in Leydig cells purified from mature rat testes was assessed. Leydig cells incubated for 4 hr with increasing concentrations of [3H]testosterone. At saturating concentrations of testosterone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) acutely stimulated aromatization. This stimulation was first observed at 1 hr, an 8-fold increase being found during a 4-hr incubation. The maximal amount of estradiol produced at saturating concentrations of testosterone and hCG was 1.8 ng per 10(6) cells. These results demonstrate that purified Leydig cells have a high capacity for aromatization and that hCG can acutely stimulate aromatization independently of stimulating testosterone synthesis in vitro.