Binding studies with [3H]cortisol revealed the presence of a single class of cortisol-binding sites on carp peripheral blood leukocytes (PBL). These binding sites showed high affinity (Kd of 3.8 nM) and low capacity (490 binding sites per cell), indicative of receptor binding. Affinity for cortisone was 254-fold lower than for cortisol. Affinity for the two synthetic glucocorticoids dexamethasone and triamcinolone acetonide (TA) was 4- and 10-fold higher than for cortisol, respectively. Further evidence for the GR character of the receptor came from results showing that cortisol induced apoptosis, which could be blocked by the glucocorticoid analogue RU486. A single meal of cortisol-containing food elevated plasma cortisol concentrations and decreased GR density in PBL, as measured 3 h later. The percentage of circulating B lymphocytes also decreased. Cortisol-induced redistribution of B lymphocytes from the blood, due to cortisol treatment, may explain the decrease of GR numbers in PBL, although downregulation of available GR remains possible.