Tamoxifen is a valuable therapeutic agent with applications in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer. However, the development of drug resistance limits the usefulness of tamoxifen therapy. One form of drug resistance in breast cancer is tamoxifen-stimulated growth. We have addressed a mechanism how the tamoxifen-estrogen receptor (ER) complex can convert from being a blocking to stimulatory signal in breast cancer. We have described an effective assay system to study the action of antiestrogen-ER complex through the activation of transforming growth factor alpha gene in situ. The MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells were stably transfected with cDNAs for wtER (D351), mutant Asp351Tyr ER (D351Y) and mutant Asp351Gly ER (D351G). The D351Y ER can enhance the estrogenic properties of 4OHT and change the pharmacology of raloxifene by converting it from antiestrogen to estrogen. We hypothesized that alterations in the charge of amino acid (aa) 351, and changes in the interaction with the side chain of an antiestrogen, are critical for the subsequent estrogenicity of the complex. Our goal was (1) to modulate the estrogenicity of the antiestrogen-ER complex by different aa substitutions at position 351 and (2) to examine the role of alterations in the side chain of antiestrogens on the estrogenicity of the complex. Substitution of tyrosine for aspartate at aa351 results in increased estrogenicity for a series of tamoxifen derivatives-ER complexes and the conversion of EM 652-ER and GW 7604-ER complexes from antiestrogenic to estrogen-like. Substitution of glycine for aspartate at aa 351 results in the conversion of 4OHT-ER complex from estrogen-like to antiestrogenic. We propose that the side chain of antiestrogens either neutralizes or displaces the charge at aspartate 351 thereby removing a charged site for the opportunistic binding of a novel coactivator. If no charge is present (D351G) then no coactivator can bind and the complex with any antiestrogen is not estrogen-like. However, if the charge is extended beyond the reach of an antiestrogen side chain (D351Y), then the coactivators bind and compounds are estrogen-like. The establishment of a relationship between the structure of the antiestrogen-ER complex and its function will enhance the development of novel compounds with unique biological activities and potentially avoid premature drug resistance.