Serum luteinizing hormone (LH) and prolactin (PRL) concentrations were measured in young (3-4 month old) and middle-aged (10-12 month old) intact female rats on proestrus, in ovariectomized rats after two estrogen injections (estradiol benzoate; EB, 10 micrograms/100 g body weight, s.c.) or after preoptic stimulation in EB-primed ovariectomized rats. Only animals showing regular 4-day estrous cycles were selected for the experiment. The magnitude of proestrous LH surge was significantly smaller in middle-aged than in young rats. Two BE injections, at noon on Days 0 and 3, in ovariectomized middle-aged rats failed to induce surges in LH secretion on Day 4 whereas the same treatment produced LH surges in ovariectomized young rats. The preoptic electrochemical stimulation (50 microA for 60 sec) produced a prompt rise in serum LH levels in ovariectomized EB-primed young but not in middle aged rats. The preoptic stimulation with a larger current (200 microA) induced LH secretin in middle-aged rats. In none of these situations serum PRL concentrations were different between young and middle-age rats. These results suggest differential aging rates in the preoptic mechanisms governing LH and PRL secretion in the rat. The function of the preoptic ovulatory center in responding to the estrogen positive feedback action and inducing LH secretion may become impaired and independent of the PRL control mechanism, even before the regular estrous cycle terminates.