Hormone-independent growth and invasiveness represent phenotypic properties acquired during early progression of breast cancer. We compared human mammary adenocarcinoma cells, MCF-7, which are estrogen-dependent and poorly metastatic, with the estrogen-independent and highly metastatic subline, MCF7/LCC1, with regard to expression of tissue-degrading factors of the matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-and urokinase (uPA)-dependent degradative pathways, as well as for their in vitro invasive properties. Both cell lines showed low constitutive mRNA expression of the MMP inhibitor TIMP-1. Baseline expression of TIMP-2 mRNA was also very low in MCF-7 cells, whereas the MCF7/LCC1 level was much higher (∼10- fold). Furthermore, both cell lines revealed low constitutive capacity to migrate in an in vitro invasion assay. Treatment with 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA; 100 nM) induced the mRNAs for TIMP-1 as well as for MMP-1, MMP-9, the uPA receptor, and the uPA inhibitor PAI-1, am ongst which only the responses of MMP-9 and PAI-1 were cell-specific. The mRNA levels of MMP-9 and PAI-1 were ~10-fold and ~15-fold higher in MCF7/LCC1 cells compared to MCF-7 cells. The secretion of immuno-reactive PAI-1 was considerably elevated (. 20-fold) in TPA-treated MCF7/LCC1 cells, whereas the TPA-dependent level of 92-kDa MMP-9 was only ~2-fold higher in MCF7/LCC1 cells than in MCF-7 cells. In both cell lines treatment with TPA was associated with an increase (~10-fold) in in vitro migration, which in the MCF7/LCC1 cells was significantly attenuated by a reconstituted basement membrane extract (Matrigel). These data suggest that TPA-responsive in vitro invasive properties that are probably associ-ated with PAI-1 expression may co-vary with progression from hormone-dependent to -independent breast cancer.