Invasion, the ability of an epithelial cancer cell to detach from and move through a basement membrane, is a central process in tumour metastasis. Two components of invasion are proteolysis of extracellular matrix and cellular movement through it. A potential promoter of these two processes is thrombin, the serine proteinase derived from the ubiquitous plasma protein prothrombin. Thrombin promotes the invasion of MDA-MB231 breast tumour cells (a highly aggressive cell line) in an in vitro assay. Invasion by MDA-MB436 and MCF-7 cells, less aggressive cell lines, is not promoted by thrombin. Thrombin, added to the cells, is a stimulator of cellular movement; fibroblast-conditioned medium is the chemotaxin. Thrombin-promoted invasion is inhibited by hirudin. Stimulation of invasion is a receptor-mediated process that is mimicked by a thrombin receptor-activating peptide. Thrombin has no effect on chemotaxis in vitro. Thrombin receptor is detectable on the surface of MDA-MB231 cells, but not on the other two cell lines. Introduction of oestrogen receptors into MDA-MB231 cells by transfection with pHEO had no effect on thrombin receptor expression, in the presence or absence of oestradiol. This paper demonstrates that thrombin increases invasion by the aggressive breast cancer cell line MDA-MB231 by a thrombin receptor-dependent mechanism.