Iodide uptake by normal and cancerous thyroid cells is an active process mediated by the sodium/iodide symporter (NIS). Using quantitative real-time RT-PCR, we found that all 22 fresh human breast cancer samples had very low NIS expression similar to levels in untreated MCF-7 breast cancer cells. 9-cis retinoic acid (9-cis RA), a ligand for both retinoic acid receptor (RAR)/retinoic X receptor (RXR) heterodimers as well as RXR/RXR homodimers, markedly induced NIS mRNA expression in MCF-7 breast cancer cells in a dose- and time-dependent fashion, with maximal levels occurring at 12 h. All-trans retinoic acid, ATRA, a RAR specific ligand had a similar potency. Among eight breast cancer cell lines, three out of four estrogen receptor (ER)-positive and zero of four ER-negative cell lines responded to 9-cis RA by increasing their expression of NIS. Combining a RAR with a RXR selective ligand enhanced both NIS mRNA expression and iodide uptake in MCF-7 cells. Similarly, a ligand for proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARgamma) when combined with 9-cis RA synergistically increased both NIS mRNA levels and iodide uptake in these MCF-7 cells. The iodide uptake was blocked by KClO4. In conclusions, these findings suggest that selected combinations of NHR ligands should be examined in a limited trial to determine if their administration to patients allows the use of radioactive iodine for diagnosis and possibly treatment of metastatic breast cancer.