Corpus luteum regression has been described in terms of: (i) functional luteolysis - a reversible decline in serum progesterone concentration; and (ii) structural luteolysis - irreversible morphological changes and tissue remodelling events within the cellular membrane. In rats, PGF(2alpha) and interleukin 1beta (IL-1beta) are involved in structural luteolysis, PGF(2alpha) by increasing ovarian lipid peroxidation, and IL-1beta by reducing progesterone and increasing PGF(2alpha) concentrations. The aim of the present report was to determine whether by an early action IL-1beta is able to regulate functional luteolysis. Thus, ovarian explants from rats at the mid-stage of corpus luteum development were incubated during short periods with either 15 or 25 ng IL-1beta ml(-1). At 15 ng ml(-1), IL-1beta inhibited progesterone after 4 and 8 h of culture without affecting PGF(2alpha) production, and a longer incubation (21 h) was needed to increase PGF(2alpha) production. In contrast, IL-1beta enhanced PGF(2alpha) concentrations at 8 h only at the higher dose (25 ng ml(-1)). The observed reduction in progesterone synthesis at the lower dose of IL-1beta before the increase in PGF(2alpha) concentrations led to the hypothesis that IL-1beta regulates functional luteolysis (progesterone diminution) before it affects structural luteolysis (PGF(2alpha) increase). The fact that the early IL-1beta action was described at 4 h but no effects on inducible nitric oxide synthase and inducible cyclooxygenase expression were found before this time led to the suggestion that these inductions were not necessary for the early IL-1beta action described.