Transforming growth factor-alpha (TGFalpha) and fibroblast growth factor-7 (FGF7) exhibit distinct expression patterns in the mammary gland. Both factors signal through mitogen-activated kinase/extracellular regulated kinase-1,2 (MAPK(ERK1,2)); however, their unique and/or combined contributions to mammary morphogenesis have not been examined. In ex vivo mammary explants, we show that a sustained activation of MAPK(ERK1,2) for 1 h, induced by TGFalpha, was necessary and sufficient to initiate branching morphogenesis, whereas a transient activation (15 min) of MAPK(ERK1,2), induced by FGF7, led to growth without branching. Unlike TGFalpha, FGF7 promoted sustained proliferation as well as ectopic localization of, and increase in, keratin-6 expressing cells. The response of the explants to FGF10 was similar to that to FGF7. Simultaneous stimulation by FGF7 and TGFalpha indicated that the FGF7-induced MAPK(ERK1,2) signaling and associated phenotypes were dominant: FGF7 may prevent branching by suppression of two necessary TGFalpha-induced morphogenetic effectors, matrix metalloproteinase-3 (MMP-3/stromelysin-1), and fibronectin. Our findings indicate that expression of morphogenetic effectors, proliferation, and cell-type decisions during mammary organoid morphogenesis are intimately dependent on the duration of activation of MAPK(ERK1,2) activation.