Phthalate esters (PE) such as DEHP are high production volume plasticizers used in vinyl floors, food wraps, cosmetics, medical products, and toys. In spite of their widespread and long-term use, most PE have not been adequately tested for transgenerational reproductive toxicity. This is cause for concern, because several recent investigations have shown that DEHP, BBP, DBP, and DINP disrupt reproductive tract development of the male rat in an antiandrogenic manner. The present study explored whether the antiandrogenic action of DEHP occurs by (1) inhibiting testosterone (T) production, or by (2) inhibiting androgen action by binding to the androgen receptor (AR). Maternal DEHP treatment at 750 mg/kg/day from gestational day (GD) 14 to postnatal day (PND) 3 caused a reduction in T production, and reduced testicular and whole-body T levels in fetal and neonatal male rats from GD 17 to PND 2. As a consequence, anogenital distance (AGD) on PND 2 was reduced by 36% in exposed male, but not female, offspring. By GD 20, DEHP treatment also reduced testis weight. Histopathological evaluations revealed that testes in the DEHP treatment group displayed enhanced 3ss-HSD staining and increased numbers of multifocal areas of Leydig cell hyperplasia as well as multinucleated gonocytes as compared to controls at GD 20 and PND 3. In contrast to the effects of DEHP on T levels in vivo, neither DEHP nor its metabolite MEHP displayed affinity for the human androgen receptor at concentrations up to 10 microM in vitro. These data indicate that DEHP disrupts male rat sexual differentiation by reducing T to female levels in the fetal male rat during a critical stage of reproductive tract differentiation.