The TGF-beta signaling network plays a complex role in carcinogenesis because it has the potential to act as either a tumor suppressor or a pro-oncogenic pathway. Currently, it is not known whether TGF-beta can switch from tumor suppressor to pro-oncogenic factor during the course of carcinogenic progression in a single cell lineage with a defined initiating oncogenic event or whether the specific nature of the response is determined by cell type and molecular etiology. To address this question, we have introduced a dominant negative type II TGF-beta receptor into a series of genetically related human breast-derived cell lines representing different stages in the progression process. We show that decreased TGF-beta responsiveness alone cannot initiate tumorigenesis but that it can cooperate with an initiating oncogenic lesion to make a premalignant breast cell tumorigenic and a low-grade tumorigenic cell line histologically and proliferatively more aggressive. In a high-grade tumorigenic cell line, however, reduced TGF-beta responsiveness has no effect on primary tumorigenesis but significantly decreases metastasis. Our results demonstrate a causal role for loss of TGF-beta responsiveness in promoting breast cancer progression up to the stage of advanced, histologically aggressive, but nonmetastatic disease and suggest that at that point TGF-beta switches from tumor suppressor to prometastatic factor.