In many vertebrates, environmental factors influence gamete differentiation and growth of the mature gonad through alteration of sex steroid production or action; however, it is unclear how gamete differentiation and gonadal growth are regulated in echinoids. The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of dietary administration of estradiol (E2), progesterone (P4), testosterone (T) and finasteride (F, a 5α-reductase inhibitor) on the ovaries and testes of mature Lytechinus variegatus (Lamarck) during gonadal growth. Echinoids were fed a formulated diet supplemented with steroids or steroids in combination with finasteride for 36 d. The effects of dietary administration of steroids on L. variegatus were both steroid- and sex-specific. The mean ovary index was 54% greater in individuals fed E2 than from individuals fed the control (C) diet (10.0 ± 1.1 vs 6.5 ± 0.7, respectively; P < 0.05). Individuals fed E2, P4, E2/P4, and P4 in combination with F had significantly smaller oocytes (P < 0005) than individuals fed C. The volume fraction occupied by nutritive phagocytes in ovarian tubules from individuals fed E2/P4 or P4 were significantly larger than the volume fraction occupied by nutritive phagocytes from individuals fed C, indicating that E2 and 5α-reduced progestins may promote nutrient allocation to nutritive phagocytes. Although oocytes from the individuals fed T alone were significantly smaller than those fed T in combination with F, oocytes from individuals in both treatments were significantly larger compared to oocytes from individuals fed C. These data suggest that upon removal of 5α-reduced androgens, T is able to promote an increase in oocyte diameters. In contrast, the mean testis index was 56% greater in individuals fed P4 than in individuals fed C (8.9 ± 0.6 vs 5.7 ± 0.9, respectively; P < 0.05); the testis index did not increase in individuals fed P4/F, suggesting that 5α-reduced progestins stimulate testicular growth. Testes growth in the presence of 5α-reduced progestins was accomplished by significant increases in the volume fraction occupied by nutritive phagocytes and by a significant reduction in the volume fraction occupied by spermatogenic columns in testicular tubules. These data further indicate that 5α-reduced progestins (or 5α-reduced androgens) may inhibit spermatogenic column formation. In conclusion, E2 stimulated ovarian growth but inhibited oocyte growth, whereas T had no affect on ovarian growth but promoted oocyte growth in L. variegatus. We hypothesize that the E2 (or E2 metabolites) and/or 5α-reduced androgens in combination with T regulate oocyte growth in the echinoid L. variegatus. In addition, 5α-reduced progestins promoted nutrient accumulation in nutritive phagocytes within the ovaries and the testes. Furthermore, 5α-reduced progestins stimulated growth of the testes and inhibited spermatogenic column formation, suggesting that 5α-reduced progestins regulate nutrient accumulation into nutritive phagocytes and spermatogenic column formation in L. variegatus. The differences in estrogen effects between echinoids and asteroids may be related to differences in gonad morphology and, ultimately, the differences in cellular signalling pathways (paracrine vs endocrine).