The extent of dissolution of tissues within the apical wall of the preovulatory ovine follicle (formative site of rupture) is greater than that of the counterpart basal hemisphere. It has been hypothesized that proteolytic enzymes released from contiguous ovarian surface epithelial cells contribute to apical follicular weakening and ovulation. Ovulation occurs from the dominant ovarian follicle of proestrous ewes at approximately 24 h after administration of luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH). Follicular rupture was inhibited in sheep in which the ovarian surface epithelium was surgically removed at 8 (but not at 16) h following LHRH. Plasminogen activator bioactivity was greater within the follicular apex compared to basal wall at 12 h; this difference was negated by prior removal of epithelium at 8 h after LHRH. A low M(r) plasminogen activator of the urokinase-type (uPA) was secreted by epithelial cells recovered from the surface of preovulatory follicles (Western blot analysis). Ovarian epithelium, not associated with a preovulatory follicle, produced very little uPA. Finally, ovulation was suppressed by intrafollicular injection (8 h post-LHRH) of uPA antibodies. It is suggested that secretion of uPA by ovarian surface epithelium and consequent plasmin up-regulation within neighboring tunica albuginea and follicular theca is a contributing factor in the mechanism of ovulation.