Logical properties of angiotensin II receptors in the rat adenohypophysis were analyzed in cultured rat pituitary cells incubated with angiotensin II and known stimuli of pituitary hormone secretion. PRL release during incubation for 3 h with 3 nM angiotensin II was consistently increased by 68 +/- 5%, comparable with that elicited by TRH (63.1 +/- 4%). The ED50 of 0.5 nM for PRL release by angiotensin II was significantly lower than that of TRH (2.9 nM) in the same cell cultures. The antagonist analog [Sar1,Ala8]angiotensin II prevented the angiotensin-induced rise in PRL production but not that evoked by TRH, whereas dopamine and SRIF inhibited basal, angiotensin, and TRH-stimulated PRL release. Angiotensin II also caused a small increase in ACTH release but had no effect on the release of LH, TSH, and GH. Angiotensin II binding and PRL release were measured in partially purified lactotrophs prepared by elutriation, by which the initial cell suspension was separated into seven fractions. Most of the lactotrophs were present in the two fractions eluted at flow rates of 15.7 and 19.8 ml/min, as indicated by their immunoreactive PRL content. The 2.5- to 3.2-fold enrichment of lactotrophs was accompanied by a 2- to 3.5-fold increase in angiotensin II receptor concentration, with no change in binding affinity (Ka = 3.5 x 10(9) M-1). In the same fractions, angiotensin II-induced PRL release was similarly increased by 1.6- to 3.5-fold above basal, compared with values of less than 1 in the initial cell suspension and other fractions. The preferential location of angiotensin II receptors in the lactotroph-containing fractions and the close correlation between angiotensin II binding sites and stimulation of PRL release indicate the functional importance of the pituitary angiotensin II receptor sites. These findings also suggest that angiotensin II could contribute to the physiological regulation of PRL secretion.