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We investigated the expression of Ad4BP (also known as SF-1), a transcription factor regulating steroidogenic P-450 genes, in the steroidogenic tissues such as adrenal glands, testes and ovaries through the prenatal and postnatal life of rats. Ad4BP was detected in the primordial adrenal glands and gonads of the 13.5 day postcoitum (d.p.c.) fetus. After the appearance of Ad4BP, a steroidogenic P-450 (P-450(SCC)) was also detected in the adrenal glands and its amount increased gradually. In the fetal gonads of 14.5 d.p.c., a significant amount of Ad4BP was detected in the somatic cells of the testes, whereas only a trace amount was present in the ovaries. The sexually dimorphic expression of Ad4BP continued throughout the neonatal age. Drastic alterations occurred during the first to third week of postnatal age accompanied by functional and structural changes of the gonads. The expression of Ad4BP in the testes attained a maximal level one week after birth and decreased markedly thereafter. By contrast, increase of Ad4BP in the ovary was detected after the first postnatal week. Expression of P-450c17 showed a good correlation with the proliferation of Leydig cells in the testes and theca cells in the ovaries. Immunohistochemical studies revealed the presence of Ad4BP in Sertoli cells as well as Leydig cells up to the pubertal age. In the adult rat testis, however, staining of Sertoli cells decreased significantly. Ad4BP was detected in granulosa, theca, corpus luteum and interstitial gland cells in the ovary although the expression levels in granulosa cells varied among follicles. It is suggested that the Müllerian inhibitory substance gene may be a target of Ad4BP since this gene has a conserved Ad4-binding site within the promoter, which is recognized by Ad4BP expressed in the fetal testes.