OBJECTIVE: Steroid hormones (estradiol and progesterone) in association with prolactin and growth hormone are involved in lobulo alveolar development of the mammary gland during pregnancy. We hypothesized that the BRCA1 gene may be induced by these different hormones. METHODS AND RESULTS: In this study, we have demonstrated by Northern blot and in situ hybridization, that the expression of ovine (o) BRCA1 mRNA in mammary epithelial cells increased dramatically during a short period in the second half of pregnancy (days 70 to 112) and decreased at the end of pregnancy. The increase in oBRCA1 mRNA expression is concomitant with rapid lobulo alveolar growth. Using an in vivo protocol to artificially induce mammary gland development, we demonstrated by the real-time RT-PCR method that growth hormone in association with estrogen, progesterone and hydrocortisone induces an increase of BRCA1 mRNA expression in the ewe mammary gland. Moreover, we showed that estradiol and progesterone induce oBRCA1 expression in primary cultures of ewe mammary gland. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that BRCA1 is a potential regulator of the effects of steroid hormones and growth hormone in the induction of mammary epithelial cell proliferation.