Using a ceruloplasmin cDNA clone in RNA blot analysis, a single 3.7 kb ceruloplasmin-specific transcript was detected in rat mammary gland tissue from pregnant and lactating animals. Ceruloplasmin gene expression in the mammary gland was tissue-specific, with no evidence of expression in brain, heart or other extrahepatic tissues. Ceruloplasmin mRNA was also detected in mammary gland tissue from male, virgin female and non-pregnant/multiparous animals, and the abundance of ceruloplasmin-specific transcripts in virgin female rats was independent of their stage of oestrus. In virgin female mammary gland the content of ceruloplasmin mRNA was 20% of that in hepatic tissue from these animals and approx. 2-3-fold greater than that found in mammary gland tissue of pregnant or lactating animals. Development studies revealed ceruloplasmin gene expression in male and female mammary gland by only 2 weeks of age, prior to the onset of puberty. Biosynthetic studies indicated that the ceruloplasmin mRNA in mammary gland tissue was translated into a 132 kDa protein qualitatively similar to that synthesized in liver. By in situ hybridization, ceruloplasmin gene expression was localized to the epithelium lining the mammary gland alveolar ducts, without evidence of expression in the surrounding mesenchyme. Ceruloplasmin gene expression was also detected in a human breast adenocarcinoma cell line and in biopsy tissue from women with invasive ductal carcinoma. Taken together, these data indicate that the mammary gland is a prominent site of extrahepatic ceruloplasmin gene expression and add to the evidence that ceruloplasmin biosynthesis is associated with growth and differentiation in non-hepatic tissues.