The expression of the KGF receptor (KGFR) and its stromal ligands, KGF and FGF-10, was compared during mouse mammary gland development. KGFR expression in mammary parenchyma is maximal in mature virgin mice, declines during pregnancy and lactation, but rises after weaning. The rise in KGFR mRNA in the virgin animal corresponds to parenchymal growth. The fall in KGFR expression in pregnancy is driven by hormone-induced alveolar differentiation since the level of KGFR mRNA is 5-fold higher in isolated ductal cells compared to alveolar cells. KGF and FGF-10 expression patterns differ during ductal development. FGF-10 is also expressed at about a 15-fold higher molar level than KGF. During pregnancy and lactation, expression of KGF and FGF-10 decreases in intact fat pads but is unchanged in parenchyma-free fat pads. Thus, the decrease in KGF and FGF-10 expression observed in intact glands during pregnancy and lactation is not a direct consequence of the changing hormonal milieu but more likely reflects an increase in the ratio of epithelium to stroma. Differences in the level and pattern of expression of mRNA for KGF, FGF-10, and the KGFR during postnatal development of the mouse mammary gland are a result of morphological development, changes in the ratio of stroma to epithelium, and hormonal regulation of cell differentiation. These changes suggest that the biological roles that these growth factors play are regulated by fluctuations in both growth factor and growth factor receptor expression and that KGF and FGF-10 may have different regulatory functions.