We have examined the effects of the protein kinase C (PKC)-activator phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) on gene expression in two breast cancer cell (BCC) lines exhibiting highly different phenotypes. These are the estrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha)-positive, weakly invasive, luminal epithelial-like MCF-7 and the ERalpha-negative, highly invasive, fibroblast-like MDA-MB-231. They express constitutively low and high PKC activities, respectively. After a 24-h exposition to 100 nM PMA, the number of genes showing an altered expression at the 2-fold change level was much higher in MCF-7 (n=435) than in MDA-MB-231 (n=18) BCC. Four of these genes, namely CDC2, CENPA, NR4A1 and MMP10, were altered in the same way in both cell lines. Two genes were regulated in an opposite way: ID1 and EVA1. Many of the genes down-regulated in MCF-7 BCC appeared to be preferentially expressed in the G1, S, and/or G2 phases of the cell cycle. The ERalpha gene, ESR1, and other genes associated to the ERalpha-positive, luminal epithelial-like BCC phenotype were down-regulated, while a series of genes related to a more aggressive, fibroblast-like BCC phenotype were up-regulated. Other altered genes were notably linked to cell architecture, supporting profound effects of PMA on cell morphology and motility, as well as on the interactions between BCC and their neighboring proteins. Of note, all the modulated genes involved in proteolysis and its control were up-regulated. In summary, PMA effects suggest that PKC activation may induce, to some extent, a more fibroblast-like phenotype in the ERalpha-positive, luminal epithelial-like MCF-7 BCC, and significantly modulate the interactions of these cells with their environment.