The study of the mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV) has provided important insights into the mechanisms of gene transcription regulation by steroid hormones, the mode of action of heritable super antigens and the progressive nature of neoplastic transformation in the mammary gland. Here we describe the current situation with respect to the latter aspect of MMTV biology and the prospects for further advance in our understanding of breast cancer in humans that may be expected from a continued study of MMTV-induced mammary neoplasia. MMTV is a heritable somatic mutagen whose target range is limited. Commonly, the tumorigenic capacity of MMTV is restricted to mammary gland, whereas infection is found in a variety of cell types. In order to replicate, proviral DNA must be inserted into the cell DNA and cell division is required to fix the mutation. Yet only in the mammary epithelium does this lead to neoplastic transformation. This suggests a unique relationship between MMTV and mammary epithelium. In evaluating this relationship, we and others have discovered genes and potential gene pathways that are pertinent in mammary differentiation and neoplasia. In addition, the clonal nature of these progressive events from normal to malignant phenotype has become increasingly clear. The weight of these observations compel us to conclude that mammary neoplasms arise from multipotent mammary epithelial cells through a process of acquired mutations that are reflected in the increasingly malignant nature of the population of progeny produced by these damaged stem cells.