In earlier studies it has been shown that women with breast cancer and at risk for breast cancer have low excretion of urinary mammalian lignans (enterolactone and enterodiol) mainly due to low intake of whole-grain products and other fiber-rich foods. It is well known that estradiol (E2) has proliferative effects on estrogen dependent cancer cells and that antiestrogens inhibit this effect. To elucidate whether enterolactone (Enl) has antiestrogenic properties we studied, using MCF-7 breast cancer cells in culture, the in vitro effect of relatively low concentrations of Enl added both alone and in combination with E2. E2 (1 nmol/l) and Enl (0.5-2 mumol/l) separately stimulated the proliferation of MCF-7 cells, but their combination always resulted in lower stimulation than any of them alone, or the combined compounds had no stimulatory effect at all compared to the control. Higher concentrations above 10 mumol/l of Enl inhibited significantly the growth of the cells suggesting a toxic effect. The lignan was very rapidly conjugated to its monosulfate. It is suggested that one possible mechanism by which Enl may affect the growth of these estrogen sensitive cells is by competition of Enl and its sulfate with the estrogens for sulfokinases and sulfatases involved in estrogen metabolism in the cells. It is concluded that Enl inhibits E2-stimulated MCF-7 breast cancer cell growth in vitro, and vice versa. The concentrations of Enl needed for the elimination of the proliferative effect of E2 are physiologic and similar to those used in corresponding experiments utilizing tamoxifen.