Fatty acid synthetase (FAS) is induced by progestins in human breast cancer cell lines. To study its regulation in normal mammary glands, the FAS level was estimated by immunohistochemistry, using the biotin-streptavidin method, in ducts and lobules of normal tissues adjacent to nonproliferative benign breast lesions collected by biopsy. Rabbit polyclonal antibodies to human FAS specifically recognized the 250-kDa FAS from MCF7 cells, as shown by Western immunoblotting. An excess of purified FAS totally switched off FAS immunostaining of R5020-treated MCF7 cells, demonstrating the validity of FAS immunocytochemical detection. FAS labeling was quantified using a computer-aided image analyzer (SAMBA 2005) in 18 patients receiving progestin therapy from the 15th to the 25th day of the menstrual cycle and 26 untreated patients. In the 2 groups, FAS staining, absent of fibroblasts, was observed in the cytoplasm of epithelial cells. It was higher in lobules than in ducts and increased significantly from the follicular to the luteal phase in both structures. Progestin treatment increased FAS expression in both structures. Using monoclonal antibodies, progesterone receptor expression was measured in frozen serial sections. In patients receiving progestin treatment, the progesterone receptor level increased from the beginning of the cycle to day 14 and then decreased during the second part of the menstrual cycle, probably down-regulated by progestin, indicating a regulation similar to that in the endometrium. We conclude that FAS is induced by progestins in the ducts and lobules of human normal mammary glands as it is in human breast cancer cells. FAS may, therefore, be useful for studying the effect of progesterone in normal human mammary glands.