The aim of the present study was to examine the regulation of interleukin (IL)-11 expression, as well as the role of IL-11, during ovulation in gonadotropin-primed immature rats. Injection of equine chorionic gonadotropin (eCG), followed by human CG (hCG) to induce superovulation stimulated expression of the Il11 gene in theca cells within 6h, as revealed by northern blot and in situ hybridisation analyses. Real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analysis showed that the IL-11 receptor, α subunit gene was expressed in granulosa and theca cells and that injection of hCG had no effect on its expression. IL-11 protein expression was stimulated in theca cells by hCG. LH-stimulated increases in Il11 mRNA levels in cultured preovulatory follicles were inhibited by protein kinase A and mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase inhibitors. Toll-like receptor (TLR) 2 and TLR4 were detected in preovulatory follicles, and the TLR4 ligand lipopolysaccharide, but not the TLR2 ligand Pam3Cys, increased Il11 mRNA levels in theca cells, but not in granulosa cells. Treatment of preovulatory follicles with IL-11 stimulated progesterone production and steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (Star) gene expression. Together, these results indicate that IL-11 in theca cells is stimulated by mitogen-activated protein kinase signalling and TLR4 activation, and increases progesterone production during ovulation.