A human tamoxifen-resistant mammary carcinoma, MaCa 3366/TAM, originating from a sensitive parental xenograft 3366 was successfully established by treatment of tumour-bearing nude mice with 1-50 mg kg(-1) tamoxifen for 3 years during routine passaging. Both tumours did not differ significantly in OR- and PR-positivity, however, when compared with the sensitive tumour line, the mean OR content of the TAM-resistant subline is slightly lower. An OR-upregulation following withdrawal of oestradiol treatment was observed in the parental tumours but not in the resistant xenografts. Following long-term treatment with tamoxifen, the histological pattern of the breast carcinoma changed. The more differentiated structures being apparent after treatment with 17beta-oestradiol in the original 3366 tumour were not induced in the resistant line. Tamoxifen failed to induce a tumour growth inhibition in comparison to the tamoxifen-sensitive line. The pure anti-oestrogen, ICI 182 780, revealed cross-resistance. Sequence analysis of the hormone-binding domain of the OR of both lines showed no differences, suggesting that either mutations in other regions of the OR are involved in the TAM-resistance phenotype or that mechanisms outside of this protein induced this phenotype. Oestrogen and anti-oestrogen regulate pS2 and cathepsin D expression in 3366 tumours as in the human breast cancer cell line MCF-7. The resistant 3366/TAM tumours have lost this regulation. The established breast cancer xenografts 3366 and 3366/TAM offer the possibility of investigating mechanisms of anti-oestrogen resistance in an in vivo situation. They can be used to test novel approaches to prevent, or to overcome, this resistance in a clinically related manner.