The pituitary gland, composed of the anterior, intermediate and posterior lobe, represents a principal regulatory interface through which the central nervous system controls body physiology. The ontogeny of the growth hormone (GH) and prolactin (Prl) producing cells of the anterior pituitary has been analysed in transgenic mice, using the thymidine kinase obliteration system (TKO). Cells expressing the herpes virus 1 thymidine kinase (HSV1-TK) gene acquire pharmacological sensitivity to synthetic nucleosides such as FIAU (1-(2-deoxy-2-fluoro-beta-delta-arabinofuranosyl)-5-iodouracil), whose metabolites kill dividing cells. Consequently we created transgenic mice carrying the HSV1-TK gene under the control of either the rat growth hormone or the rat prolactin promoter. If transgenic mice expressing HSV1-TK in somatotropes (GH-producing cells) are treated with FIAU, they develop as dwarfs. The anterior pituitary in these animals is nearly devoid of both somatotropes and lactotropes (Prl-producing cells). By contrast, transgenic mice expressing HSV1-TK in the lactotropes, treated with FIAU, have anatomically and histologically normal pituitaries. Because toxicity depends on cell division, we conclude that Prl expression and lactotrope differentiation are post-mitotic events. These results indicate that both somatotropes and lactotropes derive from a common GH-expressing stem-somatotrope. Unexpectedly, the stemsomatotrope is still present in the adult animal and is capable of repopulating the pituitaries of treated animals with mature GH and Prl producing cells.