Atresia and luteolysis are well-documented processes in which most of the growing ovarian follicles and all corpora lutea, respectively, are eliminated by apoptosis. We have previously reported that LH and FSH enhance caspase-3 and -7 activity and apoptosis in the theca-interstitial cells of rat preovulatory follicles in culture. Here we have used cultured follicles to examine whether LH-induced caspase activation is related to the ability of LH to stimulate steroid production. In these studies, we used three inhibitors of enzymes involved in steroid production: aminoglutethimide and ketoconazole, acting on cytochrome P450 side-chain cleavage (P450scc) located at the mitochondria, and epostane, acting on 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase located at the endoplasmic reticulum. We found that treatment with either aminoglutethimide or ketoconazole, but not with epostane, significantly reduced LH-induced caspase-3 and -7 activation and apoptosis, suggesting the mediation of LH-induced caspase activation by P450scc. Supplementing pregnenolone, the product of P450scc catalysis, to follicles treated with aminoglutethimide did not restore LH-induced caspase activation. On the other hand, treatment with antioxidants inhibited LH-induced caspase activation. Moreover, LH treatment was associated with an increase in reactive oxygen species which was inhibited by aminoglutethimide. Thus, P450scc catalysis results in an increase in reactive oxygen species, which in turn may trigger/facilitate caspase-3 activation. Finally, we found that in rat corpora lutea in vivo, an increase in steroidogenesis was accompanied by an increase in caspase activity. Thus, this study reveals a linkage between two seemingly distinct processes in which LH-induced caspase activation in cultured rat preovulatory follicles is coupled to mitochondrial steroidogenesis via P450scc.