We have determined the time course of phosphorylation of MAPK/ERK, cAMP-responsive element-binding protein (CREB), and serine/threonine kinase (Akt) in ovine pituitary gonadotropes after in vivo injection (iv) of either 25 mug estradiol-17beta (E17beta) or vehicle. In ovariectomized ewes, E17beta increased the number of gonadotropes expressing phosphorylated (p)ERK-1/2 and pCREB immunoreactivity (-IR) within 90 min, as assessed by immunohistochemistry. By Western blot, we also showed that pERK-1/2, pCREB, and pAkt (ser 473) proteins were up-regulated by E17beta. In ovariectomized, hypothalamo-pituitary-disconnected animals, gonadotrope function was restored with hourly GnRH pulses (iv), and E17beta injection (iv) reduced LH response within 1 h. Immunohistochemistry showed that E17beta increased pERK-1/2-IR in gonadotropes within 15 min and peak response at 60 min. The number of cells immunoreactive for pCREB was greater in E17beta-treated animals than in vehicle-injected controls at 60 and 90 min. Western blot revealed a pERK-1/2 response within 15 min and pCREB response at 30 min. Up-regulation of pAkt occurred within 60 min of E17beta treatment. Thus, rapid effects of E17beta on gonadotropes involve phosphorylation of second messenger proteins with a time course that may relate to the rapid negative feedback effect to reduce responsiveness to GnRH.