Treatment of T47-D human breast carcinoma cells with recombinant prolactin (rhPRL) induced a concentration- and time-dependent increase in the phosphotyrosine content of JAK2. rhPRL also stimulated JAK2 tyrosine phosphorylation more weakly in three other breast carcinoma lines, MCF-7, ZR-75-1 and MDB-MB-231. Furthermore it stimulated tyrosine phosphorylation of two isoforms of the transcriptional activator STAT5, STAT5a and STAT5b. Surprisingly, rhPRL treatment of T47-D cells also stimulated tyrosine phosphorylation of focal adhesion kinase (FAK), as determined by immunoprecipitation with anti-phosphotyrosine antibody followed by immunoblotting with a specific FAK antibody. The effect of rhPRL was rapid and concentration-dependent, being maximal at 5 ng/ml. At rhPRL concentrations above 25 ng/ml, FAK tyrosine phosphorylation declined but remained above control levels at 100 ng/ml. rhPRL also stimulated paxillin tyrosine phosphorylation in T47-D cells with similar concentration- and time-dependence. In a second human breast carcinoma cell line, MCF-7, rhPRL produced very similar effects on FAK and paxillin tyrosine phosphorylation. These findings identify a new protein tyrosine kinase pathway in the action of the lactogenic hormone rhPRL and represent the first report that a hormone acting through a member of the haemopoietin receptor super-family can regulate the FAK/paxillin pathway.