In the lactating mammary gland, weaning produces mitochondrial cytochrome c release and nuclear DNA fragmentation, as determined by gel electrophoresis. This is followed by a significant decrease in lactation. Weaning for 2 h produces an early induction of the tumour suppressor/transcription factor p53, whereas the oncoprotein c-Jun and c-Jun N-terminal kinase are elevated after 24 h of weaning when compared with controls. The expression of p21(cip1) and p27(kip1), cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors, was significantly higher in weaned rats when compared with control lactating rats. All the changes mentioned above also happen in the lactating mammary gland when propargylglycine, an inhibitor of the liver trans-sulphuration pathway, is administered. This effect is partially reversed by N -acetylcysteine administration. The administration of buthionine sulphoximine, an irreversible inhibitor of gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase, to lactating rats produces a decrease in GSH levels and changes in protein concentrations and gene transcripts similar to those in rats with impaired trans-sulphuration pathway. These data suggest that the inter-tissue flux of GSH is an important mechanism of L-cysteine delivery to the lactating mammary gland and emphasize the importance of this physiological event in maintaining the gene expression required to sustain lactation.