A considerable body of research indicates that mammary gland branching morphogenesis is dependent, in part, on the extracellular matrix (ECM), ECM-receptors, such as integrins and other ECM receptors, and ECM-degrading enzymes, including matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and their inhibitors, tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinases (TIMPs). There is some evidence that these ECM cues affect one or more of the following processes: cell survival, polarity, proliferation, differentiation, adhesion, and migration. Both three-dimensional culture models and genetic manipulations of the mouse mammary gland have been used to study the signaling pathways that affect these processes. However, the precise mechanisms of ECM-directed mammary morphogenesis are not well understood. Mammary morphogenesis involves epithelial 'invasion' of adipose tissue, a process akin to invasion by breast cancer cells, although the former is a highly regulated developmental process. How these morphogenic pathways are integrated in the normal gland and how they become dysregulated and subverted in the progression of breast cancer also remain largely unanswered questions.