Microscopic evaluation of LNCaP cells stained with the lipophilic dye Oil red O revealed that androgens induce a marked stimulation of lipid droplet accumulation. As determined by quantitative analysis of the Oil red O extracted from the stained cells, stimulatory effects of the synthetic androgen R1881 became apparent at concentrations as low as 10(-11) M. Maximal induction (15-fold) was reached at 10(-8) M. Increases were observed 2 days after hormone addition and were maximal 1 day later. Accumulation of lipid droplets was also induced by mibolerone (another synthetic androgen) and by the natural androgens testosterone and dihydrotestosterone. In agreement with the aberrant ligand specificity of the mutated androgen receptor in LNCaP cells, stimulation of lipid accumulation was also apparent after treatment with progesterone and estradiol. Cortisol and the synthetic glucocorticoid dexamethasone were ineffective. The androgen antagonist Casodex (bicalutamide) abolished the stimulatory effect of R1881, further supporting the involvement of the androgen receptor. In agreement with this conclusion, no changes in lipid accumulation were observed after androgen treatment of the androgen receptor-negative prostate tumor lines PC-3 and DU-145. To investigate the nature of the lipids affected by androgens, lipid extracts were analyzed by TLC, complemented with enzymatic lipid analyses. Androgens were shown to have major effects on the content of triglycerides and cholesterol esters (33- and 7-fold stimulation, respectively), the two main classes of lipids stained by Oil red O. Phospholipid and cholesterol contents were increased by a factor of 2. Incorporation studies with [2-14C]acetate revealed that androgens caused a major stimulation of 2-14C incorporation into triglycerides and cholesterol esters (11- and 13-fold, respectively), suggesting that androgens act at least in part at the level of lipid synthesis. Taken together, these findings indicate that androgens, besides affecting proliferation and protein secretion, also markedly stimulate the production and accumulation of neutral lipids, revealing a novel interesting aspect of androgen regulation of LNCaP cells.