We have studied the role of endothelins (ET-1, ET-2 and ET-3) and ET receptors (ET-RA and ET-RB) in the invasive capacity of breast tumor cells, which express ET-I and ET-2 as well as ET-RA and ET-RB. Of five human breast tumor cell lines tested, all expressed mRNAs for ET-1, ET-2, and ET-RB. ET-RA mRNA was expressed by four of five tumor cell lines. Breast tumor cells migrated toward ET-I and ET-2 but not toward ET-3. Chemotaxis involved signaling via both receptors, and a pertussis toxin-sensitivep42/p44mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)mediated pathway that could be inhibited by MAPK kinase (MEK)1/2 antagonists. Chemotaxis toward ETs did not involve p38 or stress-activated protein kinase (SAPK)/Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and was not inhibited by hypoxia. Incubation of tumor cells with ET-2 also increased chemotaxis toward the chemokines CXCL12 and CCL21. As well as inducing chemotaxis of tumor cells, ET-1 and ET-2 increased tumor cell invasion through Matrigel. Furthermore, stimulation of macrophage/tumor cell cocultures with ETs led to increased matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-2 and -9 production by macrophages and a marked increase in invasion of tumor cells. Antagonism of either ET-RA or ET-RB decreased the invasion seen in ET-stimulated cocultures, as did a broad-spectrum MMP inhibitor. Immunohistochemical staining of human breast tumor sections showed increased ET and ET receptor protein expression by tumor cells in invasive ductal carcinoma compared with normal breast tissue or ductal carcinoma in situ. Furthermore, tumor cell ET and receptor expression was stronger at the invasive margin of invasive ductal carcinomas, in the lymphovascular space, and in lymph node metastases. ET expression often colocalized with ET-RB expression in all neoplastic tissue indicating a possible autocrine action of ETs. We suggest that expression of ETs and their receptors by human breast tumors, particularly in conjunction with a high macrophage infiltrate, may have a role in the progression of breast cancer and the invasion of tumor cells.