Ciliary neurotropic factor (CNTF) is a neuroregulatory cytokine belonging to the interleukin-6 type cytokine superfamily. Although a few studies have reported a facilitatory action of CNTF on the reproductive axis in rodents, information along this line is still very limited. In this study, we examined a possible role of CNTF in the generation of ovarian steroid-induced luteinizing hormone (LH) and prolactin (PRL) surges in the rat, a crucial physiological event in mammalian reproduction. Experiments were performed on both normally-fed and 3-day-fasted rats, ovariectomized and primed with estradiol and progesterone. Blood was collected every 30 min between 11:00 and 18:00 h, to measure LH and PRL. Drugs were given intracerebroventricularly at 11:00 h. Compared to control serum, undiluted as well as threefold dilutions of anti-CNTF serum caused partial but significant suppression of LH surges. Both concentrations of the antibody also delayed the onset of PRL surge to a comparable degree. Fasted rats did not exhibit significant surges of the hormones, while 0.3 and 1.0 nmol, but not 0.1 nmol, recombinant human CNTF led to a dose-dependent recovery of both LH and PRL surges. These results demonstrate for the first time a significant role of CNTF in the generation of preovulatory LH and PRL surges in the rat. CNTF may thus be another humoral signal linking nutrition and reproductive function.