The reactions of steroid hormone biosynthesis are accompanied by formation of oxygen radicals. We determined the levels of some antioxidants and antioxidative enzymes at different developmental stages of bovine corpora lutea to examine their correlation with steroidogenic status. Plasma progesterone concentrations of estrous cycle synchronized cows increased until day 16, and then decreased rapidly during luteal regression. The levels of steroidogenic cytochrome P450scc and adrenodoxin paralleled the changes in plasma progesterone. Among the antioxidative enzymes examined, the SOD and catalase activities showed patterns most similar to plasma progesterone. Catalase and SOD activities increased 6-8 fold from day 6 to 16 of the estrous cycle and then decreased during the luteal regression. Ascorbate and beta-carotene showed low but significant correlation with P450scc and plasma progesterone levels. The profiles of two lipophilic antioxidants in corpora lutea were very different. beta-carotene concentration increased by approximately 6 fold from day 6 to 16, and decreased in regressive tissue. alpha-tocopherol showed a 3 fold increase between days 6 and 9 followed by a rapid decrease. Thus, at the peak of steroidogenesis at mid-luteal phase alpha-tocopherol levels decreased, but beta-carotene levels increased. The correlation between the levels of some antioxidant enzymes and compounds with progesterone levels indicates that antioxidative mechanisms are activated to cope with steroidogenesis dependent oxyradical formation in the bovine corpus luteum.