Serum inhibin levels were measured by heterologous RIA during pregnancy, lactation, and the post-weaning estrous cycle in the rat and correlated with changes in serum FSH and LH and prolactin. Blood was serially collected by cardiac puncture under light ether anesthesia from adult Sprague-Dawley rats on alternate days throughout the experimental period. For the first 8 days of pregnancy, immunoreactive inhibin levels remained high, then gradually decreased to reach a nadir at Day 16, and subsequently rose steeply until parturition. The pattern of serum immunoreactive inhibin levels during early pregnancy does not support a corpus luteum source and the dramatic rise from Day 16 to Day 22 correlates with the recommencement of follicular development in the ovary. Inhibin levels decreased rapidly on the day after birth and were suppressed until Day 8 of lactation, slowly increasing thereafter to reach a plateau from Day 14 until weaning (Day 22.5 of lactation). These changes in inhibin levels positively correlated with LH and FSH and negatively with prolactin, and are consistent with an ovarian source for inhibin associated with the recommencement of follicular development resulting from the diminution of the suckling stimulus. Immediately after weaning, serum immunoreactive inhibin levels showed a 4-day cyclic pattern corresponding to the estrous cycle identified by vaginal smear. Inhibin levels peaked on the day of proestrus, reached a nadir on the day of estrus, and rose slowly during metestrus and diestrus to a new peak at proestrus. Serum FSH levels showed an inverse correlation to inhibin levels consistent with a feedback relationship with inhibin.