Inhibins are expressed in the adrenal cortex, but little is known of their binding or role in the adrenal. The aims of the present study were, first, to establish whether a mouse adrenocortical (AC) cell line expresses inhibins/activins and bone morphogenetic proteins (BMP), along with proteins required for inhibin to antagonise activin and BMP actions and, secondly, to characterise and compare inhibin binding sites and proteins in the rat adrenal gland and AC cells. AC cells were found to: (1) express mRNA for multiple BMPs (BMP-2, -3, -4, -6, -8a), growth/differentiation factors (GDF-1, -3, -5, -9), Lefty A and B, and the inhibin α, βA and βB subunits (2) secrete inhibin A and inhibin B and (3) express mRNA encoding the inhibin co-receptor, betaglycan, along with activin and BMP type I (ALK2-7) and type II (ActRII, ActRIIB, BMPRII) receptors, and binding proteins (follistatin, BAMBI, gremlin). When applied to sections of rat adrenal glands, [125I] inhibin A specifically bound to cells of the adrenal cortex, mainly in the zona reticularis. Scatchard analyses of in vitro [125I] inhibin A binding to dispersed rat adrenal cells and AC cells revealed sites of high affinity (Kd(1) of 0.18 and 0.15 nM, respectively) and low affinity (Kd(2) of 2.6 and 1.3 nM, respectively. Competition for [125I]inhibin A binding by activin A or B (30 nM) was negligible, whereas BMP-2, -6 and -7 competed for between 21 and 33% of specific inhibin A binding (IC50 between 0.2 and 0.3 nM). Inhibin B crossreaction with inhibin A binding sites was 220 kDa) were affinity labelled by [125I]inhibin A on both the primary rat adrenal and AC cells. The species of >220 kDa were shown by immunoprecipitation to include betaglycan, the species of 105 kDa is consistent in size with type II receptors for activin/BMP, and that of 62 kDa co-migrates with the inhibin-follistatin complex. In summary, the results show that inhibin A binds selectively and with both high and low affinity to AC cells via multiple binding proteins, including a single betaglycan-like species. The results support the role of glycosylated betaglycan in the high affinity binding of inhibin A, but provide consistent evidence from two independent sources of adrenal cells that inhibin A interacts with several membrane proteins in addition to those currently understood to mediate the anti-activin/BMP actions of inhibin.