Using differential display, we isolated DDC-4, a secreted frizzled-related protein (sFRP), which is induced in the physiological apoptosis of hormonally regulated, reproductive tissues such as mammary gland, prostate, corpus lute and uterus. The role of this gene in apoptosis was studied in animals overexpressing ectopic DDC-4/sFRP-4. Transgenic mice bearing the DDC-4/sFRP-4 cDNA under the control of the MMTV-LTR promoter showed lactational insufficiency and many apoptotic cells in the alveoli between day 19 of pregnancy and day 4 of lactation as demonstrated by TUNEL reaction and the presence of activated caspase-3. We performed a PKB/Akt kinase assay and studied several of its substrates using phosphorylation-specific antibodies to show reduced phosphorylation in PKB/Akt itself, as well as in glycogen synthetase kinase-3beta (GSK-3beta), BAD, and Forkhead. Taken together, our results show a role for DDC-4/sFRP-4 in abrogating an epithelial cell survival pathway at the onset of mammary gland involution.