Immunoreactive beta-endorphin (IR-beta-ENDO) was compared in the plasma, pituitary and hypothalamus of young female rats on the day of estrus and old constant estrous (CE) female rats, and in intact and chronically castrated old CE female rats. The concentration of IR-beta-ENDO in the plasma and the content and concentration of IR-beta-ENDO in the neurointermediate lobe of the pituitary were significantly greater in the old CE female rats than in the young female rats on the day of estrus. The content and concentration of IR-beta-ENDO in the anterior pituitary and hypothalamus were similar in the two age groups. To determine if estrogen contributed to the increase in plasma and pituitary levels of IR-beta-ENDO observed in the old animals, a group of old CE female rats were castrated and compared to sham operated control CE rats. Thirty days after castration, levels of plasma, pituitary and hypothalamic IR-beta-ENDO were comparable in the intact and the chronically castrated old female rats. These data indicate that in old CE female rats, plasma and pituitary IR-beta-ENDO are significantly increased in comparison to young female rats on the day of estrus, and that these increased levels of IR-beta-ENDO observed in old female rats do not appear to be influenced by gonadal estrogen.