The epithelial proliferation of normal human breast tissue xenografts implanted into athymic nude mice is significantly increased from basal levels by oestradiol (E2), but not progesterone (Pg) treatment at serum concentrations similar to those observed in the luteal phase of the human menstrual cycle. Type I IGF receptor (IGFR-I) mRNA and protein have been shown to be up-regulated by E2 in MCF-7 breast cancer cells in vitro in which IGF-I and E2 act synergistically to stimulate proliferation. We have investigated the expression of the IGFR-I mRNA in normal human breast xenografts treated with or without E2 or Pg alone and in combination. Northern analysis of 20 micrograms of RNA extracted from the breast xenograft samples showed no hybridization with 32P-labelled IGFR-I probe, although an 11-kb species of IGFR-I mRNA could be seen when 20 micrograms of RNA extracted from either MCF-7 breast cancer cells or human breast carcinomas was examined in this way. In order to analyse the expression of IGFR-I mRNA in breast xenografts, a quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) was employed in which RNA loading, reverse transcription and PCR efficiencies were internally controlled. The data indicate that the IGFR-I mRNA is up-regulated by two to threefold compared with untreated levels by 7 and 14 days E2 treatment. In contrast, 7 or 14 days Pg treatment down-regulates the receptor mRNA to approximately half that of untreated levels, whereas combination E2 and Pg treatment produced a twofold increase in IGFR-I mRNA levels compared with untreated tissue. The results are consistent with the suggestion that E2 may act to stimulate proliferation indirectly via a paracrine mechanism involving IGFs in normal as well as malignant human breast epithelial cells.