Glutathione (GSH), an antioxidant and conjugator of electrophilic toxicants, prevents toxicant-mediated destruction of ovarian follicles and oocytes. Ovarian GSH has previously been shown to change with estrous cycle stage in rats, suggesting that the gonadotropin hormones may regulate ovarian GSH synthesis. The present studies tested the hypotheses that  estrous cycle-related changes in ovarian GSH result from cyclic changes in protein and mRNA expression of the rate-limiting enzyme in GSH synthesis, glutamate cysteine ligase (GCL, also called gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase), and  that these changes result from gonadotropin-mediated regulation of GCL subunit expression. In the first experiment, ovaries were harvested from cycling adult female rats on each stage of the estrous cycle. In the second experiment immature female rats were injected with pregnant mare's serum gonadotropin (PMSG) to stimulate follicular development or with vehicle and killed 8, 24, or 48 h later. In both experiments the ovaries were harvested for  total GSH assay,  Western analysis for GCL catalytic (GCLc) and regulatory (GCLm) subunit protein levels, or  Northern analysis for Gclc and Gclm mRNA levels. Ovarian GSH concentrations and Gclc and Gclm mRNA levels, but not GCL subunit protein levels, varied significantly with estrous cycle stage. PMSG administration significantly increased ovarian GSH concentrations 24 and 48 h later. GCLm protein levels increased significantly at 24 h and 48 h following PMSG. GCLc protein levels did not increase significantly following PMSG. Gcl subunit mRNA levels were not significantly increased at any time point by the planned ANOVA; however, an increase in Gelc at 48 h was identified by t-testing. These results support the hypothesis that gonadotropins regulate ovarian GSH synthesis by modulating GCL subunit expression.