Previous studies have shown that the capacity of Leydig cells from aged (21-24-month-old) Brown Norway rats to produce testosterone is reduced from young (4-month-old) levels, and that this is correlated with reductions in steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR), peripheral benzodiazapine receptor (PBR), and the levels and activities of the steroidogenic enzymes. The age(s) at which particular changes in the steroidogenic pathway occur, and the relationship of particular changes to reduced testosterone production, are not known. We examined 3 critical components of the steroidogenic pathway, cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) production, StAR, and P450 side-chain cleavage enzyme (P450scc) in relationship to age-related decreases in testosterone production. Leydig cells isolated from Brown Norway rats of increasing ages (4, 9, 15, and 20 months) were evaluated. The ability of Leydig cells to produce testosterone was reduced at 9 months, although not significantly. Significant reductions in testosterone production were first seen in cells isolated from rats of 15 months of age, and further reductions occurred thereafter. Reduced testosterone was correlated with reductions in StAR, P450scc mRNA, and protein. Significant decline in luteinizing hormone-stimulated intracellular cAMP levels was seen by 9 months, before significant reductions in testosterone, StAR, and P450scc. Further declines in cAMP levels were seen at 15 and 20 months. These studies suggest that age-related reductions in intracellular cAMP may lead to the reduced testosterone production that characterizes aged Leydig cells. This suggestion is supported by recent studies from our lab demonstrating that long-term (3 days) culture of old Leydig cells with dbcAMP restored testosterone production to levels approximating those of young cells.