The organ culture of the rat ventral prostate was chosen as a model to determine whether any of the estrogen effects in vivo on the prostate are direct and expressed at the hormone concentrations normally found in the male. During 2 weeks of culture, estradiol at the high concentration of 10(-5) M blocked the androgenic activation of [3H]thymidine incorporation into DNA. The inhibition was localized in epithelium. Protein content of testosterone-treated explants and the accumulation of prostatein in the medium were considerably decreased, indicating inhibition of secretion. Antiandrogenic effects were not seen in morphology of estrogen-treated explants. The lower concentrations (from 10(-9) M to 10(-6) M) of estradiol increased the volume density of epithelium from day 7 onwards. The height of epithelium was concomitantly increased. The volume density of epithelium as well as the percentage of acini with metaplastic changes were significantly increased. These epithelial changes were less pronounced in the presence of androgen, suggesting that physiological concentrations of androgen prevent the expression of estrogen action in the morphology of the prostate. A change in staining with peanut (PNA)- and wheat germ agglutinin (WGA)-lectins indicated defective secretory capacity in metaplastic epithelium. In spite of the increased protein content in the explants, no constant pattern of the changes in prostatein accumulation could be recorded. Although the concentrations of estrogen required to induce squamous metaplasia were still unphysiological, the occurrence of this abnormal differentiation of the prostatic epithelium suggests that the cooperative action of estrogen is involved in androgen-dependent normal epithelial growth and possibly also in promoting growth of prostatic neoplasia.