Growth hormone (GH) is essential for rodent mammary gland development during puberty. It binds to GH receptors in the stromal compartment of the mammary gland and stimulates IGF-I mRNA expression. These findings lead to the hypothesis that GH acts through locally produced IGF-I, which in turn, causes development of terminal end buds (TEBs), the structures that lead the process of mammary gland development during puberty. Subsequent studies have in large measure proven this hypothesis. They include the observations that mammary development was grossly impaired in female mice deficient in IGF-I (IGF-I(-/-) knockout mice), and treatment of these mice with IGF-I plus estradiol (E2) restored pubertal mammary development while treatment with GH + E2 did not. Thus, the full phenotypic action of GH in mammary gland development is mediated by IGF-I. We have demonstrated one effect of GH on the mammary gland that does not appear to be mediated by the action of IGF-I. GH increased the level of estrogen receptor (ER) mRNA and protein in the nuclei of mammary fat pad cells, but IGF-I did not. In addition to the critical role of the GH/IGF-I axis during pubertal mammary development, other data suggest that IGF-I might also be of importance during pregnancy and lactation. In summary, the earliest phase of pubertal mammary development (formation of TEBs) requires IGF-I or GH in IGF-I sufficient animals. No other hormones have been shown to stimulate formation of TEBs unless GH or IGF-I is present. GH-induced IGF-I is of major importance in ductal morphogenesis, and may, in fact, be necessary for later stages of mammary development, as well.