The phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt and mitogen/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (MEK)/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signaling pathways are important integrators of growth and survival signals originating from extracellular stimuli. We assessed the importance of these signaling pathways in the growth and survival of 8 breast cell lines (MCF10A, an immortalized line; and 7 cancer cell lines). The cell lines expressed variable levels of both phosphorylated ERK and phosphorylated Akt, but these were unchanged by incubation in serum-free medium. Despite continued activity of these pathways, the cells arrested growth in the absence of serum demonstrating that additional pathways are required for growth. Incubation with the PI3K inhibitor LY294002 suppressed growth of all cell lines, but most remained viable for at least 7-14 days. This long-term survival may be attributable to recovery of phospho-Akt by 24-48 h despite the continued presence of active LY294002, suggesting that alternate pathways may be activating Akt. In contrast, incubation with the MEK inhibitor U0126 not only arrested growth, but also killed all the cell lines within 2-4 days in the absence of serum; the presence of serum only slighted extended viability, except in MCF10A and MDA-MB-468 cells, in which serum provided significantly greater protection. It is likely that these signaling pathways control the level of pro-and anti-apoptotic proteins, yet assessment of Bcl-2 and Bcl-X showed dramatic reduction in level only when large numbers of cells were dead suggesting this may be a consequence rather than cause of death. Overall, the results demonstrate that the MEK/ERK pathway represents the more critical pathway for cell survival of these breast cancer cell lines, and suggest this pathways represents the better target for cancer therapy.