Vitellogenin (Vtg) and estrogen receptor (ER) gene expression levels were measured in largemouth bass to evaluate the activation of the ER-mediated pathway by estradiol (E2). Single injections of E2 ranging from 0.0005 to 5 mg/kg up-regulated plasma Vtg in a dose-dependent manner. Vtg and ER mRNAs were measured using partial cDNA sequences corresponding to the C-terminal domain for Vtg and the ligand-binding domain of ER?? sequences. After acute E2-exposures (2 mg/kg), Vtg and ER mRNAs and plasma Vtg levels peaked after 2 days. The rate of ER mRNA accumulation peaked 36-42 h earlier than Vtg mRNA. The expression window for ER defines the primary response to E2 in largemouth bass and that for Vtg a delayed primary response. The specific effect of E2 on other estrogen-regulated genes was tested during these same time windows using differential display RT-PCR. Specific up-regulated genes that are expressed in the same time window as Vtg were ERp72 (a membrane-bound disulfide isomerase) and a gene with homology to an expressed gene identified in zebrafish. Genes that were expressed in a pattern that mimics the ER include the gene for zona radiata protein ZP2, and a gene with homology to an expressed gene found in winter flounder. One gene for fibrinogen ?? was down-regulated and an unidentified gene was transiently up-regulated after 12 h of exposure and returned to basal levels by 48 h. Taken together these studies indicate that the acute molecular response to E2 involves a complex network of responses over time. ?? 2002 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.