STATs (signal transducer and activator of transcription) are a family of latent transcription factors which are activated in response to a variety of cytokines and growth factors. This family of signalling molecules have been implicated in growth, differentiation, survival and apoptosis. In this article, we will review work which highlights the role of individual STAT factors in mammary gland and demonstrate the value of genetically modified mice in defining the function of STAT3. Involution of the mouse mammary gland is characterised by extensive apoptosis of the epithelial cells and the activation of STAT3. STATs 3 and 5 have reciprocal patterns of activation throughout a mammary developmental cycle suggesting that STAT5 may be a survival factor and STAT3 a death factor for differentiated mammary epithelium. To clarify the role of STAT3 in mammary epithelial apoptosis, we have generated a conditional knockout using the lox/Cre recombination system. Mammary glands from crosses of transgenic mice expressing Cre recombinase under the control of the beta-lactoglobulin milk protein gene promoter with mice harbouring one floxed STAT3 allele and one null STAT3 allele, showed a decrease in epithelial apoptosis and a dramatic delay of the involution process upon forced weaning. This was accompanied by precocious activation of STAT1 and increases in p53 and p21 levels--these may act as a compensatory mechanism for initiating the eventual involution which occurs in STAT3 null mammary glands. This demonstrates for the first time the importance of STAT factors in signalling the initiation of physiological apoptosis in vivo and highlights the utility of the lox/Cre system for addressing the function of genes, which have an embryonic lethal phenotype, specifically in mammary gland.