Conversion of Candida albicans from yeast to mycelial growth is believed to be associated with the organism's virulence. We investigated the role of mammalian hormones in initiating this transformation. Three clinical isolates of Candida albicans were tested for their ability to produce germ tubes under various conditions. Controlled hormonal conditions were provided by stripping rabbit serum with activated charcoal. Steroid compounds under investigation were added back to the stripped serum and yeast were inoculated into the test materials. Microscopic counts of germinated versus ungerminated cells were used as an indicator of morphogenic transformation. The percent of yeast cells germinating was profoundly reduced in stripped compared to unstripped serum. The addition of 1 microM estradiol, cholesterol or testosterone only slightly increased levels of germination above that seen in controls. Estradiol at concentrations 100 times less, however, proved a strong inducer of germination. Cholesterol did not synergize germination when combined with estradiol and the alpha isomer of estradiol had almost no activity as an inducer of morphogenic change in Candida albicans. We conclude that beta estradiol was a morphogenic inducer in three clinical isolates of Candida albicans but only at concentrations typical in vivo.