We have shown previously that chronic treatment with glucocorticoids enhances both ACTH-induced cAMP production and ACTH- or 8Br-cAMP-induced steroidogenesis of cultured ovine adrenocortical cells. This treatment has been shown to involve an increase in the number of ACTH receptors. The present study aimed to explore the mechanism of this effect of glucocorticoids on ACTH receptors. Ovine adrenocortical cells expressed one major ACTH receptor transcript of 3·6 kb and three minor ones of 4·2, 1·8 and 1·3 kb. Dexamethasone treatment of cultured cells increased the levels of all these transcripts in a time- and dose-dependent manner, with an EC50 of (1·5±0·6) × 10−8 m. The mean increase over control with 10−6 m dexamethasone was 144 ± 11% (n=14). This enhancing effect was specific for glucocorticosteroids. The antiglucocorticoid Ru38486 blocked the effect of dexamethasone. Testosterone did not modify, while high concentrations of 17β-estradiol decreased, ACTH receptor mRNA levels. Treatment of cells with aminoglutethimide (an inhibitor of steroidogenesis) resulted in a dose-dependent decrease in ACTH receptor mRNA levels, which was prevented by concomitant treatment with dexamethasone. Treatment with ACTH also increased ACTH receptor mRNA levels more than twofold. Addition of aminoglutethimide together with ACTH resulted in a smaller increase than that achieved with ACTH alone. Neither dexamethasone nor ACTH modified ACTH receptor mRNA half-lives. However, these two hormones enhanced the levels of both newly synthesized and total ACTH receptor mRNAs. These results indicate that the positive trophic effect of glucocorticoids on ovine adrenocortical cells involves an enhancement of the transcription rate of the ACTH receptor gene. In addition, they suggest that part of the trophic action of ACTH on ACTH receptors may be mediated by ACTH-induced steroidogenesis.