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The mechanism by which prolactin, a peptide hormone, regulates casein gene expression has been studied in mammary gland organ culture. After prolactin addition, a 2-4 fold increase in the rate of casein mRNA transcription was observed within 1 hr and maintained for at least 24 hr. This increased rate of transcription is not sufficient to account for the mass accumulation of casein mRNA. The half-life of casein mRNA is also increased 17-25 fold in the presence of prolactin. This change in casein mRNA half-life, coupled with a 2-4 fold increase in the rate of transcription, can account for the normal accumulation of casein mRNA observed after prolactin addition. This hormone-induced change in casein mRNA half-life appeared to be selective, since prolactin was found to exert only a slight effect (1-4 fold) on the half-life of poly(A) RNA determined under identical pulse-chase conditions. The hormonal regulation of casein gene expression thus does not app-ar to be an "all or none" process occurring only at the transcriptional or post-transcriptional levels, but rather may involve a coordinated response at several levels to permit the efficient expression of specialized differentiated functions.