Changes in the levels of pituitary mRNAs encoding GH, prolactin (PRL) and somatolactin (SL) were determined in pre-spawning chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) caught at a few key points along their homing pathway in 1994 and 1995. Furthermore, we analyzed relationships between expression of pituitary-specific POU homeodomain transcription factor (Pit-1/GHF-1) and GH/PRL/SL family genes. In 1994, seawater (SW) fish and matured fresh-water (FW) fish were sequentially captured at two points along their homing pathway, the coast and the hatchery. In addition to these two points, maturing FW fish were captured at the intermediate of the two points in 1995. The levels of hormonal mRNAs were determined by a quantitative dot blot analysis using single-stranded sense DNA as the standard. Relative levels of Pit-1/GHF-1 mRNAs were estimated by Northern blot analysis. In 1994, the levels of GH/PRL/SL family mRNAs except for PRL mRNA in the male FW fish were 1.8-4 times higher than those in the SW fish. In 1995, the level of PRL mRNA was somewhat sharply elevated in the maturing FW fish soon after entry into the FW environment, while that of SL mRNA was gradually increased during upstream migration from the coast to the hatchery. The levels of 3 kb Pit-1/GHF-1 mRNA in the FW fish were higher than those in the SW fish in both 1994 and 1995. The present results indicate that expression of genes for the GH/PRL/SL family and Pit-1/GHF-1 is coincidentally enhanced in homing chum salmon. Moreover, the present study suggests that expression of the SL gene is elevated with sexual maturation, whereas that of PRL gene is elevated with osmotic change during the final stages of spawning migration.