Epithelial proliferation of the ventral prostate in rodents peaks between 2 and 4 weeks of age, and by week 8, proliferating cells are rare. We have used ERbeta(-/-) and CYP7B1(-/-) mice to investigate the role of ERbeta and one of its ligands, 5alpha-androstane-3beta,17beta-diol (3betaAdiol), in growth of the ventral prostate. Before puberty, ERbeta was found in quiescent but not in proliferating cells, and proliferating cells occurred more frequently in ventral prostates of ERbeta(-/-)mice than in wild-type littermates. Treatment with 3betaAdiol decreased proliferation in wild-type but not in ERbeta(-/-) mice. In rats, treatment with 3betaAdiol from postnatal day 2 to 28 resulted in reduction in growth of ventral prostates. The prostates of CYP7B1(-/-) mice were hypoproliferative before puberty and smaller than those of their wild-type littermates after puberty. Because CYP7B1 represents the major pathway for inactivating 3betaAdiol in the prostate, we suggest that ERbeta, 3betaAdiol, and CYP7B1 are the components of a pathway that regulates growth of the rodent ventral prostate. In this pathway, ERbeta is an anti proliferative receptor, 3betaAdiol is an ERbeta ligand, and CYP7B1 is the enzyme that regulates ERbeta function by regulating the level of 3betaAdiol.