The actions of substance P (SP), a widely distributed tachykinin neuropeptide, are mediated by the NK1 receptor, a seven trans-membrane spanning domain cell surface receptor coupled to heterotrimeric G-proteins. SP regulates cellular processes in the CNS, placenta and vasculature including permeability, inflammation, mitogenesis and transformation. Examples of sexual dimorphism in tissue distribution and expression of SP and the SP receptor (SPR) in various organ systems (breast, uterus, brain) suggest the SPR may be under hormonal control. Using Northern blot analysis of SPR mRNA levels, we studied the effects of 17beta-estradiol (E2) on SPR gene expression in AR42J (rat pancreatic acinar) cells which constitutively express high levels of SPR. E2 (100 nM) led to a 2.5-fold increase in SPR mRNA levels (4.7 kb band) which was time- and concentration-dependent. The increase was inhibited by the RNA polymerase inhibitor actinomycin D (5 microg/ml) but not by the translational inhibitor cycloheximide (10 microg/ml). In addition, the antiestrogen tamoxifen (1 microM) blocked the stimulatory effect of E2 on SPR mRNA. Increased SPR mRNA levels in response to E2 were linearly related to increased [3H]SP binding to the SPR. This study has implications for understanding molecular mechanisms of hormonal control of receptor gene expression.