The present study examined turkey prolactin (PRL) transcription and PRL mRNA stability during different reproductive stages. Nuclear run-on transcription assays were performed using isolated nuclei from pituitaries of turkeys at different reproductive stages. Meanwhile, cytoplasmic PRL mRNA and plasma PRL were measured by slot blot and RIA respectively. The PRL transcription, pituitary cytoplasmic PRL mRNA abundance and plasma PRL levels increased after photostimulation and peaked at the incubating stage (P<0·05). A decrease in PRL transcription, pituitary cytoplasmic PRL mRNA and plasma PRL (P<0·05) was observed during the transition from incubation to photorefractoriness. Nest-deprivation reduced circulating PRL (P<0·05), whereas pituitary cytoplasmic PRL mRNA and PRL transcription were not significantly altered from those in incubating birds (P>0·05). The half-life of PRL mRNA was determined in pituitaries of non-photostimulated, laying, incubating and photorefractory hens. Primary pituitary cell cultures were treated with the transcription inhibitor actinomycin-D and the decay of the pre-existing PRL mRNA was quantified using Northern blot analysis. The PRL mRNA half-life was 1·5- and 1·4-fold greater in incubating and laying birds respectively than in non-photostimulated turkeys (P<0·05). The half-life of PRL mRNA in photorefractory and incubating hens was similar in spite of great differences in pituitary PRL mRNA steady-state levels and PRL transcription. Our data suggest that photoinduced changes in pituitary PRL mRNA and plasma PRL are due to changes in both PRL transcription and PRL mRNA stability. Nest-deprivation inhibits the PRL releasing mechanism(s) independently of PRL transcription in turkeys.