An estradiol metabolite, 2-methoxyestradiol (2-MeOE(2)), has shown antiproliferative effects in both hormone-dependent and hormone-independent breast cancer cells. Previously, a series of 2-hydroxyalkyl estradiol analogs had been synthesized in our laboratories as potential probes for comparison of estrogen receptor (ER)-mediated versus non-ER-mediated effects in breast cancer cells. A methoxy derivative of 2-hydroxymethyl estradiol was prepared for biological evaluation and comparison with 2-MeOE(2). Estrogenic activity of the synthetic analogs was evaluated in two ways, one by examining affinity of the analogs for the estrogen receptor in MCF-7 cells and the other by examining the ability of the analogs to induce estrogen-responsive gene expression. The analog, 2-methoxymethyl estradiol (2-MeOMeE(2)), demonstrated weak affinity for the estrogen receptor (0.9% of estradiol) and weak ability to stimulate estrogen-induced expression of the pS2 gene (0.02% of estradiol). Antitumor activity was evaluated both in vitro and in vivo. The steroidal nucleus seems to be an attractive target for developing novel tubulin polymerization inhibitors. Additionally, such steroidal compounds may have low toxicity compared to the natural products known to interact with tubulin. Interestingly, 2-MeOMeE(2) inhibited tubulin polymerization in vitro at concentrations of 1 and 3 microM and was more effective than 2-MeOE(2). In cells, 2-MeOMeE(2) was effective in suppressing growth and inducing cytotoxicity in MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells. The cytotoxic effects of 2-MeOMeE(2) are associated with alterations in tubulin dynamics, with the frequent appearance of misaligned chromosomes, a significant mitotic delay, and the formation of multinucleated cells. In comparison, 2-MeOE(2) was more effective than 2-MeOMeE(2) in producing cytotoxicity and altering tubulin dynamics in intact cells. Assessment of in vivo antitumor activity was performed in athymic mice containing human breast tumor xenografts. Nude mice bearing MDA-MB-435 tumor xenografts were treated i.p. with 50 mg/kg per day of 2-MeOMeE(2) or vehicle control for 45 days. Treatment with 2-MeOMeE(2) resulted in an approximate 50% reduction in mean tumor volume at treatment day 45 when compared to control animals and had no effect on animal weight. Thus, 2-MeOMeE(2) is an estrogen analog with minimal estrogenic properties that demonstrates antiproliferative effects both in vitro and in the human xenograft animal model of human breast cancer.