Progesterone inhibits gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) secretion through interneuronal systems located in the mediobasal hypothalamus in ewes. Endogenous opioid peptides are implicated in this inhibition of GnRH secretion. The distributions of endogenous opioid peptides are known to overlap with progesterone receptors (PR) in the arcuate nucleus. We investigated whether PR is expressed by beta-endorphin and dynorphin B neurons in the arcuate nucleus and if a subset of double-labeled cells projects to the preoptic area where most GnRH neurons are detected. Injection of a retrograde tracer, Fluorogold, into the rostral preoptic area was performed in ovariectomized ewes pretreated with estrogen and progesterone. Brain sections were processed using double immunocytochemistry. Only brains of ewes with an injection site encompassing at least 80 GnRH neurons were processed for PR and then either beta-endorphin or dynorphin B immunocytochemistry. Antigen retrieval is essential for PR detection but causes Fluorogold to fade. Thus, quantitative analysis was performed on photographs taken before and after antigen retrieval. We found that 25-30 of PR-containing neurons, 20 of beta-endorphin cells and 22 of dynorphin B neurons in the arcuate nucleus project toward the preoptic area. From the PR/beta-endorphin double-labeled cells that represent 25 and 36 of PR and beta-endorphin cells, respectively, 35 were labeled with Fluorogold. From the PR/dynorphin B double-labeled cells that account for 39 and 62 of PR and dynorphin B neurons, respectively, 26 contained Fluorogold. These data strongly support the hypothesis that progesterone acts in the arcuate nucleus through beta-endorphin and dynorphin B neurons to affect preoptic area GnRH neurons.