The aim of this study was to examine the in vivo effect of growth hormone (GH) on cell proliferation and apoptosis and on the gene expression of selected proteins in the chicken oviduct before sexual maturity (first oviposition). Ten-week-old Hy-Line Brown chickens were injected three times a week with 200 μg · kg -1 body weight of recombinant chicken GH (cGH) until 16 weeks of age. Control hens received 0.9 % NaCl with 0.05 % bovine serum albumin as a vehicle. Treatment with cGH increased ( P < 0.05) oviduct weight at 16 weeks of age, i.e. 1–2 weeks before onset of egg laying. The highest number of proliferating (determined by proliferating cell nuclear antigen [PCNA] immunocytochemistry) and apoptotic (determined by TUNEL assay) cells in the oviduct was found in the mucosal epithelium, and the lowest in the stroma. Administration of cGH did not increase ( P > 0.05) the number of PCNA-positive cells but it decreased ( P < 0.01) the number of TUNEL-positive cells, thus increasing the proliferating-to-apoptotic cell ratio in the oviduct. Gene expression (determined by real-time polymerase chain reaction) of apoptosis-related caspase-2 in the magnum and caspase-3 in the magnum and isthmus and their activity (determined by fluorometric assay) in the magnum were attenuated ( P < 0.05) in cGH-treated hens. The gene expression of the magnum-specific ovalbumin and the shell-gland-specific ovocalyxins 32 and 36 was increased ( P < 0.05) in cGH-treated chickens. In contrast, the expression of Bcl-2 and of caspases 8 and 9 was not affected by cGH in any of the oviductal segments. The results suggest that GH, via the orchestration of apoptosis and expression of some oviduct-specific proteins, participates in the development and activity of the chicken oviduct prior to the onset of egg laying.