This study investigated the direct effects of hydrocortisone (HS), corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), and adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) on basal and gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH)-stimulated secretion of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) from dispersed pig pituitary cells in vitro. Pig pituitaries were dispersed into cells with collagenase, DNAase, and hyaluronidase and then cultured in McCoy's 5a medium containing horse serum (10%) and fetal calf serum (2.5%) pretreated with dextran-coated charcoal for 3 days. Cells were preincubated with steroids, CRF, or ACTH before GnRH was added. HS did not affect basal FSH secretion after 72 h of incubation. Treatment of pituitary cells with increasing concentrations (0.001-800 micrograms/ml) of HS for 72 h resulted in a dose-dependent decrease in GnRH-stimulated FSH release. HS pretreatment did not cause a change in cellular FSH content. Increasing duration (6-72 h) of treatment with HS (200 micrograms/ml) led to a time-dependent decrease in GnRH-stimulated FSH release, achieving statistical significance by 12 h. Porcine ACTH had no influence on basal and GnRH-stimulated FSH secretion. CRF decreased GnRH-stimulated FSH secretion in a dose-dependent manner, and the inhibitory effect required preincubation (6-18 h) with CRF. HS inhibited the FSH secretory responses to phospholipase C, melittin, and 8-bromo-cAMP but did not affect the response to 1,2-dioctanoyl-sn-glycerol and ionophore A23187. These results indicate that both cortisol and CRF can act directly on pig pituitary to inhibit FSH responsiveness to GnRH.