The plasma beta-endorphin (beta-EP) and beta-lipotropin (beta-LPH) response to acute exercise and the relationship of these opioid peptides to basal and luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LRH)-stimulated luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) secretion was studied in eight normal male volunteers. Acute exercise resulted in a rise in plasma beta-LPH levels that returned to base line when measured 60 min after exercise. Plasma beta-EP levels did not demonstrate any rise when measured immediately after 20 min of exercise or at 60 min after exercise. Serum LH concentrations in individual volunteers declined to nadir values 60-180 min after exercise after which they showed a rebound to levels higher than the preexercise values in three of five volunteers in whom nadir LH levels were attained before the final (180 min) measurement. Serum FSH concentrations were unaltered by exercise. Acute exercise similarly did not alter the LH/FSH response to exogenous LRH stimulation. Pretreatment of the volunteers with the narcotic antagonist, naloxone, failed to alter the postexercise or LRH-stimulated LH and FSH release. The data suggest that beta-EP does not exert a suppressive effect on LH secretion after acute exercise in normal human males. Whether the suppression of LH secretion after acute exercise in unconditioned males is due to factor(s) cosecreted with beta-LPH, an increase in brain beta-EP or to alternate mechanisms such as alteration in central dopaminergic or GABAergic tone remains to be established.