To test the hypothesis that insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) regulates mammary gland development and lactation, the expression of both human (h) IGF-I and des(1-3)hIGF-I was targeted to the mammary gland in transgenic mice using a novel exon replacement strategy and the rat whey acidic protein (rWAP) gene regulatory sequences. Both transgenes expressed a 0.7-kilobase messenger RNA (mRNA). The abundance of WAP-IGE-I and WAP-DES mRNA on day 10 of lactation ranged from 0.2-1.0% and 0.2-13% of the endogenous mouse WAP mRNA, respectively. For WAP-DES mice, transgene expression was greatest from midpregnancy throughout lactation. Western blot analysis showed the presence of correctly processed hIGF-I in milk from these transgenic mice. This hIGF-I was capable of stimulating protein synthesis in cultured rat L6 myoblasts. Ligand blotting indicated changes in mammary gland secretion of IGFBP in response to WAP-DES expression. Histological analysis of mammary tissue from mice overexpressing des(1-3)hIGF-I showed incomplete mammary involution, ductile hypertrophy, and loss of secretory lobules associated with increased deposition of collagen. These changes are believed to occur through autocrine and paracrine effects of des(1-3)-hIGF-I on both epithelial and stromal cells.