This study establishes that ovulated female goldfish release F type prostaglandins (PGFs) to the water where they stimulate male spawning behavior and comprise the goldfish postovulatory pheromone. We first demonstrated that ovulated and prostaglandin-injected female goldfish release immunoreactive PGFs to the water. Next, using electro-olfactogram recording (EOG), we determined that waterborne prostaglandins function as potent olfactory stimulants for mature male goldfish. Prostaglandin F2 alpha (PGF2 alpha) and its metabolite 15-keto-prostaglandin F2 alpha (15K-PGF2 alpha) were the most potent prostaglandins; the former had a detection threshold of 10(-10) M and the latter a detection threshold of 10(-12) M. Studies of prostaglandin-injected fish indicated that PGF metabolites are an important component of the pheromone. Cross-adaptation experiments using the EOG demonstrated that goldfish have separate olfactory receptor sites for PGF2 alpha and 15K-PGF2 alpha that are independent from those that detect other olfactory stimulants. Finally, we established that male goldfish exposed to low concentrations of waterborne PGFs exhibit reproductive behaviors similar to those elicited by exposure to the odor of ovulated fish. Together with our recent discovery that a steroidal maturational hormone functions as a preovulatory "priming" pheromone for goldfish, these findings suggest that hormones and their metabolites may commonly serve as reproductive pheromones in fish.