It is now widely accepted that the mammary gland is under interconnected hormonal and local control. Growth factors are involved in the intercellular signalling of the gland. Our aim was the detection of transforming growth factors alpha (TGF-alpha) and beta 1 (TGF-beta 1) messenger RNA during mammogenesis, lactogenesis, galactopoiesis and involution in the bovine mammary gland (total n = 27). During these stages the RNA was assessed by means of ribonuclease protection assay and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). To study possible influences of oestrogen, progesterone and prolactin on growth factor expression, mammary RNA was obtained from heifers after induced mammogenesis and lactogenesis, with and without additional prolactin inhibition (total n = 20). Very low levels of TGF-alpha and TGF-beta 1 expression were detected during lactogenesis and galactopoiesis, increasing levels during mammogenesis of primigravid heifers, and highest levels during mammogenesis of virgin heifers and during involution. TGF-alpha expression after induced mammogenesis was greater than after induced lactogenesis or physiological mammogenesis during pregnancy. Furthermore, TGF-alpha mRNA contents increased after prolactin inhibition. TGF-beta 1 expression was almost equal after induced mammogenesis and lactogenesis, but greater than during the physiological mammogenesis and lactogenesis. In conclusion, it can be assumed that growth promoting TGF-alpha and growth inhibiting TGF-beta 1 are co-expressed in the bovine mammary gland. Higher mRNA contents of both factors during mammogenesis and involution may indicate autocrine or paracrine functions for these growth factors during proliferation and reorganisation of the mammary tissue.