Objectives were to examine possible roles of estrogen receptor (ER) in development of the bovine uterine endometrium in the context of ER type, enhancer type, and ligand-independent activation. Expression vectors producing either ERα or ERβ were introduced into fetal uterine cells from Day 110 to 120 of gestation (UBF120 cells) and into rat embryo fibroblasts (Rat-1 cells), neither of which express endogenous ER. Reporter constructs containing either an estrogen response element (ERE) or activator protein-1 (AP-1) response element were cotransfected. These reporters were also transfected into fetal uterine cells from Day 180 to 200 of gestation (UBF180 cells), which express ER. In UBF120 and Rat-1 cells transfected with either ERα or ERβ, treatment with estradiol-17β (E2) resulted in increased activity of an ERE reporter construct, but not an AP-1 element reporter construct. The antiestrogen ICI 182,780 (ICI) exhibited E2 antagonist activity with both ERα and ERβ. Thus, all components were present for E2-dependent transcription from an ERE except ER; however, cells were not competent for E2-dependent transcription mediated through AP-1. In UBF180 cells, E2 treatment increased both ERE and AP-1 reporter activity. ICI exhibited E2 antagonist activity. Treatment with epidermal growth factor resulted in increased ERE reporter activity that was inhibited by ICI, indicative of ligand-independent activation of ER. These data suggest that multiple pathways for ER-mediated gene regulation occur in the developing fetal uterus and that nuclear components necessary for action of both ERα and ERβ are present prior to expression of the receptor.