This study examined the changes in cellular glucose uptake, cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA), and progesterone production induced by 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) in human luteinizing granulosa cells (LGCs) in culture. The role of Ah receptor on TCDD-mediated toxicity in human LGCs was investigated. Treatment of human LGCs with TCDD produced a time- and dose-dependent decrease in the cellular uptake of glucose. The Vmax and the K(m) of glucose transport were decreased by TCDD treatment. Furthermore, cytochalasin B, a specific inhibitor of facilitative glucose transporter proteins, totally abolished the portion of glucose transport activity that is sensitive to TCDD. Pretreatment of the cells with the Ah receptor blockers 4,7-phenanthroline and alpha-naphthoflavone antagonised the effect of TCDD on 3H-Me-glucose uptake. Structure-activity relationship studies with TCDD and three dioxin congeners revealed a rank order for their potency in the inhibition of glucose transport as follows: TCDD > 1,2,3,7,8-PCDD > 1,2,4,7,8-PCDD > 2,7-DCDD. Such a rank order is consistent with the previously determined biological activity of TCDD and the other dioxin congeners. Treatment of cells for 48 h with 10 nM TCDD substantially reduced PKA and progesterone production. The inhibitory effect of TCDD on progesterone production was more pronounced in the presence of insulin (10 micrograms/mL) and D-glucose (13.3 mM). However, cytochalasin B abolished the effect of TCDD on progesterone production. Forskolin (adenylate cyclase activator) abolished the effect of TCDD on glucose uptake and progesterone production but it did not affect the action of TCDD on PKA activity. A relationship between glucose transporting activity and progesterone production in human LGCs treated with TCDD is indicated by several lines of evidence: a) cytochalasin B downregulated glucose transporting activity and progesterone production, b) insulin plus D-glucose downregulated glucose uptake and amplified the negative effect of TCDD on progesterone production, and c) forskolin abolished the negative effect of TCDD on glucose transporting activity and on progesterone production. From the present data we conclude that glucose transporting activity can be used as a sensitive biomarker to detect the very early response to TCDD in human steroid-producing cells and that effect of TCDD on steroid production is mediated through the cAMP-dependent protein kinase.