The human corpus luteum expresses genomic progesterone receptors (PRs) suggesting that progesterone may have an autocrine or paracrine role in luteal function. We hypothesised that the reduction in luteal PR reported in the late-luteal phase augmented progesterone withdrawal and had a role in luteolysis. We therefore tested the hypothesis that luteal rescue with human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) would maintain PR expression. PR was immunolocalised to different cell types in human corpora lutea (n = 35) from different stages of the luteal phase and after luteal rescue with exogenous hCG. There was no change in the staining intensity of theca-lutein cell or stromal cell PR throughout the luteal phase or after luteal rescue. In the late-luteal phase, granulosa-lutein cell PR immunostaining was reduced (P <0.05) but the trend to reduction was also seen after luteal rescue with hCG (P = 0.055). To further investigate the effect of hCG on granulosa-lutein cell PR expression, an in vitro model system of cultured human luteinised granulosa cells was studied. Cells were cultured for 12-13 days exposed to different patterns of hCG and aminoglutethamide to manipulate progesterone secretion (P <0.0001). Expression of PR A/B and PR B isoforms was examined by quantitative real-time RT-PCR. PR A/B mRNA was lower (P <0.05) after 11-13 days of culture than after 7 days of culture. This reduction could not be prevented by hCG in the presence (P <0.05) or absence (P <0.05) of stimulated progesterone secretion. The expression of PR B mRNA showed a similar pattern (P = 0.054). Simulated early pregnancy in vivo and hCG treatment of luteinised granulosa cells in vitro did not appear to prevent the down-regulation of PR seen during luteolysis.