The prolactin (PRL) family consists of a collection of genes expressed in the uterus, placenta and anterior pituitary. These cytokines/hormones participate in the control of maternal-fetal adaptations to pregnancy. In this report, we establish the presence of three new members of the PRL family. Novel expressed sequence tags (ESTs) with homology to PRL were isolated from embryonic and placental cDNA libraries. The cDNAs were sequenced and compared with those of other members of the PRL family. The three new cDNAs were assigned to the PRL family on the basis of sequence similarities and were referred to as PRL-like protein-J (PLP-J), PRL-like protein-K (PLP-K) and PRL-like protein-M (PLP-M). Both rat and mouse PLP-J cDNAs were identified. Rat PLP-J cDNA encodes for a predicted 211 amino acid protein containing a 29 amino acid signal peptide and two putative N-linked glycosylation sites, whereas the mouse PLP-J cDNA encodes for a 212 amino acid protein containing a 29 amino acid signal peptide with a single N-linked glycosylation site. Rat and mouse PLP-J proteins share approximately 79% and 70% nucleotide and amino acid sequence identity, respectively. A full-length rat PLP-K cDNA and a partial tentative mouse PLP-K cDNA were identified. The rat PLP-K cDNA encodes for a predicted 228 amino acid protein containing a 31 amino acid signal peptide and one putative N-linked glycosylation site; the mouse PLP-M cDNA encodes for a predicted 228 amino acid protein containing a 28 amino acid signal peptide and one putative N-linked glycosylation site. Genes for PLP-J, PLP-K and PLP-M are situated at the Prl family locus on mouse chromosome 13. PLP-J was exclusively expressed in decidual tissue from both the mouse and rat. PLP-K was expressed in trophoblast cells of the chorioallantoic placenta and showed an apparent species difference. In the mouse, virtually all trophoblast lineages expressed PLP-K, whereas in the rat, PLP-K expression was restricted to the labyrinthine trophoblast cells. Mouse PLP-M expression was restricted to the junctional zone of the chorioallantoic placenta. In summary, we have identified three new members of the rodent PRL gene family that are expressed in uterine and placental structures. Future experimentation is needed to determine the specific roles of each of these ligands in the biology of pregnancy.