During the transition from pregnancy to lactation, dairy cows experience a 70% reduction in plasma IGF-I. This reduction has been attributed to decreased hepatic IGF-I production. IGF-I circulates predominantly in multi-protein complexes consisting of one molecule each of IGF-I, IGF binding protein-3 and the acid labile subunit (ALS). Recent studies in the mouse have shown that absence of ALS results in accelerated turnover and severely depressed concentration of plasma IGF-I. These observations suggest that reduced plasma ALS could be a second factor contributing to the fall of plasma IGF-I in peri-parturient cows. This possibility has not been studied due to the lack of bovine ALS reagents. To address this, we isolated the bovine ALS cDNA and used its sequence to develop a ribonuclease protection assay (RPA) and a bovine ALS antiserum. Using the RPA, ALS mRNA abundance was approximately fivefold higher in liver than in lung, small intestine, adipose tissue, kidney and heart, but was absent in muscle and brain. The antiserum detected the highest ALS levels in plasma followed by ovarian follicular fluid, lymph and colostrum. A portion of colostrum and follicular fluid ALS appears to be synthesized locally as ALS mRNA was found in mammary epithelial cells and ovarian follicular cells. Finally, we measured plasma ALS in dairy cows during the peri-parturient period (days -35 and +56 relative to parturition on day 0). Plasma ALS dropped by 50% between late pregnancy and the first day of lactation and returned to prepartum levels by day +56. To determine whether this reflected a change in hepatic expression, ALS mRNA was measured in liver biopsies collected on days -35, +3 and +56. ALS mRNA expression was significantly lower on day +3 than on day -35, but recovered completely by day +56. Finally, we examined the ability of GH to increase plasma ALS abundance at selected times before and after parturition (weeks -5, -2, +1 and +5). GH increased plasma ALS at weeks -5, -2 and +5, but not at week +1. Identical effects of GH were seen when the response considered was plasma IGF-I. We conclude that the decline in plasma ALS after parturition is a consequence of hepatic GH resistance and contributes to the associated reduction of plasma IGF-I.