Estrogens inhibit tumor growth and modify PRL and GH expression in the MtT/W15 transplantable rat pituitary tumor. The effects of estradiol (E2) and diethylstilbestrol (DES) on PRL and GH mRNA levels were investigated. Estrogens increased GH mRNA levels and decreased PRL mRNA levels as detected by in situ hybridization and Northern blot hybridization with oligonucleotide probes, while inhibiting tumor growth. Similar changes in immunoreactive GH and PRL were seen in the tumor cells. The pituitary glands of tumor-bearing rats treated with estrogen for 3 weeks were increased in weight with a concurrent increase in pituitary PRL mRNA when analyzed by dot blot hybridization. These results indicate that estrogens have an inhibitory effect on the growth of the MtT/W15 tumor and increase GH protein and mRNA levels, while causing PRL protein and mRNA levels to decrease. The pituitaries of tumor-bearing rats concomitantly undergo PRL cell hyperplasia with an increase in PRL mRNA. These results also demonstrate a paradoxical effect of estrogens on different pituitary tissues.