Release of GnRH surges in female rats is directed by a daily neural signal and occurs only after exposure of the hypothalamus to sustained, elevated estrogen (E2) levels in serum. We have proposed that preovulatory E2 couples the daily neural signal to the circuitry governing GnRH release by a two-step process, which includes stimulation of neuronal progesterone receptors (PRs) by E2 and subsequent activation of PRs by the daily neural signal. In the preceding report we documented that PR activation is obligatory for the stimulation of GnRH surges by E2. In these studies we assess the validity of a second essential feature of this model, that neural signals can activate PRs and thereby prompt the release of GnRH and LH surges. Our efforts specifically focused on the role of cAMP in mediating neural PR trans-activation leading to GnRH surges. To assess whether cAMP may function as a daily neural signal, cAMP levels were examined via a competitive binding assay in anteroventral periventricular nucleus (AVPV) homogenates obtained at 0900, 1200, 1500, 1800, and 2100 h on all days of the estrous cycle. A significant rise in cAMP concentrations was observed at 1500 h on all estrous cycle days. A similar rise at the same time was observed in AVPV tissues of ovariectomized (OVX) rats regardless of steroid treatment. No significant increase in cAMP levels was observed at any time point in homogenates of ventromedial nucleus or cerebral cortex. In a second experiment, female rats were OVX on the afternoon of diestrous day 2 and simultaneously administered 30 microg estradiol benzoate or oil vehicle. On the following day of presumptive proestrus, rats received intracerebroventricular infusions of the cAMP analog, 8-bromo-cAMP, or saline vehicle at 0900 h. Rats treated with 8-bromo-cAMP exhibited LH surges that were advanced by 3 h compared with those in saline-treated controls. This advance did not occur in 8-bromo-cAMP-treated rats not primed with E2, or in E2-treated rats given the antiprogestin RU486. In a third experiment, OVX, estradiol benzoate-primed rats received intracerebroventricular infusions of saline vehicle or the adenylyl cyclase inhibitor SQ22536; although saline-treated rats exhibited normal LH surges, no surges were observed in the rats receiving SQ22536. In additional SQ22536-treated animals, however, LH surge release was rescued and greatly augmented by a pharmacological dose of progesterone. These results demonstrate that 1) cAMP levels in the AVPV are significantly elevated at 1500 h on a daily basis; 2) cAMP elevations in the AVPV can prematurely evoke LH surges by a mechanism that requires PR activation; 3) inhibition of adenylyl cyclase activity in the AVPV blocks LH surges, an action that can be reversed by progesterone; and 4) cAMP generation leads to PR transactivation in the AVPV. Our observations thus provide support for the hypothesis that an increase in intracellular cAMP in the AVPV acts as a component of the daily neural signal required to initiate GnRH and subsequent LH surges, and that transmission of this signal is mediated by cAMP-induced PR trans-activation in the AVPV.