Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptor mRNA was found in both rat and hamster adrenals. Within 30 min after ACTH administration a significant increase in the levels of both LDL receptor and 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) mRNAs was observed in rat adrenals; these levels remained increased for up to 240 min. The increase in the levels of LDL receptor and HMG-CoA reductase mRNAs produced by ACTH was reduced by co-administration of aminoglutethimide while, at the same time, the adrenal cholesterol content of rats treated with both aminoglutethimide and ACTH was significantly increased compared with that in groups treated with ACTH alone. Cycloheximide also induced increased levels of rat adrenal mRNAs for LDL receptor and HMG-CoA reductase, but this effect was not additive with that of ACTH. These results suggest that, in the rat, the short-term effect of ACTH on the levels of mRNAs for the LDL receptor and HMG-CoA reductase is similarly controlled and might be mediated through changes in the adrenal cholesterol content. In the hamster adrenal, however, no significant fluctuations were found in the level of LDL receptor mRNA, although a marked increase was found in the level of HMG-CoA reductase mRNA, 2 h after ACTH administration. This indicates that an important effect of ACTH on cholesterol metabolism in the hamster adrenal is at the level of HMG-CoA reductase. In the hamster, therefore, where the main source of cholesterol for the adrenal gland is de-novo synthesis, it seems that a complex mechanism is involved in the control of LDL receptor gene expression.