In the rat, oestrogen is a key regulator of gonadotrophin synthesis and release through activation of oestrogen receptors (ERs). Gonadotropes express α and β isoforms of ER and both can activate transcription in response to oestrogen. These experiments were aimed at evaluating the relative contribution of ERα and ERβ on gonadotrope morphology, progesterone receptor (PR) expression and LH secretion. Ovariectomized rats were daily injected over 3 days with 25 μg oestradiol benzoate, 0.3 or 1.5 mg of the selective ERα agonist propylpyrazole triol (PPT) with or without 1.5, 3.0 or 4.5 mg of the selective ERβ agonist diarylpropionitrile (DPN), DPN alone, and 0.3 or 3 mg of tamoxifen. Controls were given 0.2 ml oil. Serum concentration and pituitary content of LH, gonadotrope PR expression, pituitary PR content, and gonadotrope morphology were analyzed by RIA, immunohistochemistry, Western blotting and light and electron microscopy, respectively. Results showed that PPT reversed all consequences of ovariectomy, DPN mimicked the effects of PPT except for its LH-releasing action and tamoxifen had ERα-like responses. When combined with PPT, DPN attenuated ERα effects without interfering with its LH-releasing activity. Oestradiol benzoate had similar effects to those of combined PPT and DPN. It is suggested that (i) the structural reorganization of the cytoplasmic organelles provided by oestrogen, and the shrinkage of the ovariectomy-induced hypertrophy of gonadotropes, which precedes the expression of PR, are evoked by ERα and modulated, in a ying–yang fashion, by ERβ; and (ii) the oestrogen-dependent exocytosis of LH, the final step in the secretory process, is dependent on ERα exclusively.