Hypothalamic peptide hormones regulate the secretion of most of the anterior pituitary hormones, that is, growth hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, thyroid-stimulating hormone and adrenocorticotropin. These peptides do not regulate the secretion of prolactin, at least in a specific manner, however. The peptides act through specific receptors, which are referred to as seven-transmembrane-domain receptors or G-protein-coupled receptors. Although prolactin is important in pregnancy and lactation in mammals, and is involved in the development of the mammary glands and the promotion of milk synthesis, a specific prolactin-releasing hormone has remained unknown. Here we identify a potent candidate for such a hormone. We first proposed that there may still be unknown peptide hormone factors that control pituitary function through seven-transmembrane-domain receptors. We isolated the complementary DNA encoding an 'orphan' receptor (that is, one for which the ligand is unknown). This receptor, hGR3, is specifically expressed in the human pituitary. We then searched for the hGR3 ligand in the hypothalamus and identified a new peptide, which shares no sequence similarity with known peptides and proteins, as an endogenous ligand. We show that this ligand is a potent prolactin-releasing factor for rat anterior pituitary cells; we have therefore named this peptide prolactin-releasing peptide.