In normal mammary glands of both rodents and humans, progesterone promotes the proliferation of epithelial cells and several lines of evidence suggest that this action of progesterone may be mediated by progesterone receptor (PR). It is well established that normal mammary development involves a complex interplay between the epithelial cells and the surrounding fatty stroma. Furthermore, during mammary development, there is a change in both the relative proportion of epithelial cells and the steady-state levels of PR. Therefore, towards understanding the precise role of PR in mammary development, we have generated a highly sensitive antibody against mouse PR and examined its pattern of localization. Immunoreactive PR was detected only in the epithelial cells of the ducts while both the adipose and fibrous stroma surrounding these ducts were receptor negative. Similarly, PR mRNA was also associated only with the ductal epithelial cells. Approximately only 45-50% of the ductal cells were receptor positive and this distribution remained unchanged whether or not the tissues had been exposed to estrogen, suggesting that they may represent a distinct subpopulation. The potential significance of these findings to mammary development is discussed.