High environmental temperatures induce detrimental effects on various reproductive processes in cattle. According to the predicted global warming the number of days with unfavorable ambient temperatures will further increase. The objective of this study was to investigate effects of acute heat stress during the late pre-ovulatory phase on morphological, physiological and molecular parameters of dominant follicles in cycling cows during lactation. Eight German Holstein cows in established lactation were exposed to heat stress (28C) or thermoneutral conditions (15C) with pair-feeding for four days. After synchronization growth of dominant follicles was monitored by ultrasonogrphy, and 21 hrs after an induced pre-ovulatory LH surge antral steroid hormones and granulosa cell-specific gene expression profiles were determined. The data showed that the pre-ovulatory growth of dominant follicles and the estradiol, but not the progesterone concentrations tended to be slightly affected. mRNA microarray and hierarchical cluster analysis revealed distinct expression profiles in granulosa cells derived from heat stressed compared to pair-fed animals. Among the 255 affected genes heatstress-, stress- or apoptosis associated genes were not present. But instead, we found up-regulation of genes essentially involved in G-protein coupled signaling pathways, extracellular matrix composition, and several members of the solute carrier family as well as up-regulation of FST encoding follistatin. In summary, the data of the present study show that acute pre-ovulatory heat stress can specifically alter gene expression profiles in granulosa cells, however without inducing stress related genes and pathways and suggestively can impair follicular growth due to affecting the activin-inhibin-follistatin system.