Our previous studies demonstrated that endothelin-1 (ET-1), a 21-amino acid vasoconstrictor peptide, has a paracrine regulatory role in bovine corpus luteum (CL). The peptide is produced within the gland where it inhibits progesterone production by acting via the selective type A endothelin (ETA) receptors. The present study was designed to characterize ETA receptor gene expression in different ovarian cell types and its hormonal regulation. ETA receptor messenger RNA (mRNA) levels were high in follicular cells as well as in CL during luteal regression. At this latter stage, high ETA receptor expression concurred with low prostaglandin F2α receptor mRNA. The ETA receptor gene was expressed by all three major cell populations of the bovine CL; i.e. small and large luteal cells, as well as in luteal endothelial cells. Among these various cell populations, the highest ETA receptor mRNA levels were found in endothelial cells. cAMP elevating agents, forskolin and LH, suppressed ETA receptor mRNA expression in luteinized theca cells (LTC). This inhibition was dose dependent and was evident already after 24 h of incubation. In luteinized granulosa cells (LGC), 10 and 100 ng/ml of insulin-like growth factor I and insulin (only at a concentration of 2000 ng/ml) markedly decreased ETA receptor mRNA levels. In both LGC and LTC there was an inverse relationship between ETA receptor gene expression and progesterone production; insulin (in LGC) and forskolin (in LTC) enhanced progesterone production while inhibiting ETA receptor mRNA levels. Our findings may therefore suggest that, during early stages of luteinization when peak levels of both LH and insulin-like growth factor I exist, the expression of ETA receptors in the gland are suppressed. This study demonstrates physiologically relevant regulatory mechanisms controlling ETA receptor gene expression and further supports the inhibitory role of ET-1 in CL function.