The lactating mammary gland and pancreas of mouse constitute the main tissues for synthesis and secretion of a bile-salt-stimulated lipase called carboxyl ester lipase (CEL). In this paper we have analysed the endogenous CEL gene expression in mammary gland. It is shown that the gene is expressed at day 14 of pregnancy, which is synchronous with that of the whey acidic protein (WAP) gene. Even though the CEL and WAP genes are induced at the same time during mammary gland differentiation, their regulation is different with respect to dependence on lactogenic hormones. The high induction of the WAP gene expression due to the activation of signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT)5 by prolactin has not been observed for the CEL gene, even though it has been demonstrated that both STAT5 isoforms interact with one of the gamma-interferon activation sequence sites in the promoter of the CEL gene. Hence we have demonstrated that the prolactin/STAT5 signal is not involved in a general and significant activation of 'milk genes'. Instead of a direct effect of the lactogenic hormones, the up-regulation of the CEL gene is correlated with an increase in the number of differentiated epithelial cells. Furthermore, promoter studies using the mammary-gland-derived cell line, HC11, show that a major positive element in the CEL gene promoter interacts with a member(s) of the CCAAT-binding transcription factor/nuclear factor 1 family, binding to a palindromic site. Binding of this factor(s) is important for the tissue-specific activation of the CEL gene in the mammary gland, because no activation by this factor(s) was seen in cells of pancreatic origin.