Steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR) transfers cholesterol over the inner mitochondrial membrane. In mammals, StAR controls this rate-limiting step of steroidogenesis, but its expression and regulation has not been well explored in fish. The present work investigates StAR mRNA expression in the head kidney of the gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata) under different stressors. We have cloned the StAR cDNA (1461 bp) in seabream (accession number EF640987), which has an open reading fraine of 861 nucleotides encoding a polypeptide of 286 aa, and displays high sequence identity with StAR of other fish and mammalian counterparts. Seabream StAR transcripts were found to be expressed exclusively in head kidneys and gonads. In fish under acute stress (chased with a net), plasma cortisol levels peaked within 1 h, were still high after 6 h, and decreased after 16 h, although no increases in head kidney StAR expression were observed at any time post-stressor. Fish under chronic high-density stress showed cortisol levels 90-fold higher than controls and StAR mRNA levels increased threefold. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) injection increased head kidney StAR mRNA levels after 6 h, reached a maximum at 12 h, and decreased until 72 h. When the head kidney cells were incubated in vitro and treated with ACTH or LPS, ACTH induced an increase in StAR, expression as expected, but LPS induced a reduction in StAR expression. In conclusion, StAR expression in seabrearn head kidneys is highly regulated by different stressors. © 2008 Society for Endocrinology.