Androgens are known to regulate both the structure and function of lacrimal tissue in a variety of species. To explore the endocrine basis for this hormone action, the following study was designed to: (1) determine the cellular distribution of androgen receptors in the lacrimal gland; and (2) examine the influence of gender and the endocrine environment on the glandular content of these binding sites. Lacrimal glands were obtained from intact, castrated, hypophysectomized, diabetic or sham-operated male or female adult rats, mice or hamsters, as well as from orchiectomized rats exposed to placebo compounds or physiological levels of testosterone. The cellular location of androgen receptors was evaluated by utilizing an immunoperoxidase protocol, in which a purified rabbit polyclonal antibody to the rat androgen receptor was used as the first antibody. Our findings with lacrimal glands showed that: (1) androgen receptors are located almost exclusively in nuclei of epithelial cells; (2) the cellular distribution or intranuclear density of these binding sites is far more extensive in glands of males, as compared to females; (3) orchiectomy or hypophysectomy, but not sham-surgery or diabetes, lead to a dramatic reduction in the immunocytochemical expression of androgen receptors; and (4) testosterone administration to orchiectomized rats induces a marked increase in androgen receptor content, relative to that in placebo-exposed glands. Our results also reveal that a 10 kb androgen receptor mRNA exists in the rat lacrimal gland. Overall, these findings demonstrate that gender and the endocrine system may significantly influence the distribution of androgen binding sites in rat lacrimal tissue. Moreover, our results show that androgens up-regulate their own lacrimal gland receptors.